Even though my family moved frequently during my childhood, one memento always hung in a prominent place on our kitchen wall – a four-by-ten-inch wooden frame containing a peaceful watercolor scene along with a poem. As a child, the picture is what captured my attention – a lake at sunrise, surrounded by forest. On shore, with hands outstretched toward the pastel morning sky, stood an Indian offering a prayer to the rising sun, visible only as a soft yellow glow on the horizon.
I never paid much attention to the poem or its meaning until I was an adolescent and began to understand something about love and loss. When asked, my mother told me about the day a friend had given it to her. On doctor’s orders, my mother and her first husband had left their Midwestern home for Arizona, hoping the dry climate would help cure her husband’s advanced tuberculosis (there being no drug at the time to fight the dread disease).
Not surprisingly, climate alone could not overcome the ravages of tuberculosis, and my mother’s husband died, leaving her a widow after just a few years of marriage. She arranged to have his body shipped home, and she booked passage for herself on the same train. A woman who’d helped my mother care for her husband in his last days took her to the station. As my mother stepped aboard the train car, her friend pressed a gift into her hand. My mother opened it after she had found her seat and begun the long voyage back home. That poem and its message of hope surely helped my mother again when her second husband, my father, died at fifty-four of cancer.
The full verse goes like this:
Look to this day
For yesterday is already a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well-lived, makes
every yesterday a dream of happiness --
and every tomorrow a vision of hope --
Look well, therefore, to this day –
Such is the salutation of the dawn.
-- author unknown
We read this poem at my mother’s funeral in 1997. The verse now hangs on my brother’s wall at home.
In loving memory of Winifred Gormley Shelton
(December 16, 1911 – March 18, 1997)