Roy Exum: I’ve 'Learned’ Poetry

Monday, June 24, 2019 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

I spent a good while Sunday afternoon trying to track down Omer B. Washington and the truth is there isn’t much on the search engines, the best-author sites, and the ‘Who’s Who’ lists about him. This is quite odd to me because this guy wrote one of the most loved and inspirational ‘things’ you’ll ever find on the Internet. As I searched, I found that what he wrote was a poem, not a ‘thing,’ and I was delighted to find so many “sayings” and anonymous quotes that I love are actually poems, just like the 23rd Psalm, The Lord’s Prayer, and our Pledge of Allegiance. Really. Not long ago I was told, in a casual conversation, “A broken crayon can still color,” and I adore that. Only now do I know that is not a quote, not a ‘saying,’ or the newest color of tattoo ink – it’s a poem.

Think about it and we all can become poets: “To win any battle you must fight as though you are already dead.” Or how about, “Be the person you can’t wait to meet.” When I was so young I had no recall my mother told me the first poem I learned was one from Ogden Nash: “The only problem with a kitten is that … it soon turns into a cat!” A poem can arrive in disguise: “The very contra of my constituency in terms of abortion is because I am positively against it. I do not have the right to any other view. My only emotion is gratitude, literally, for my life” – Actor Jack Nicholson said in a statement but only when we read the rest of the last sentence “… revealing he was adopted at birth” does it become a poem.

Omer B. Washington very famously wrote the poem “I’ve Learned,” which triggered my Sunday foray into poetry. The closest I could find is that there was a black man with the same name who was a World War II vet, lived in Hardy, West Va., and died at age 56:

* * *



I’VE LEARNED -- that you cannot make someone love you. All you can do is be someone who can be loved. The rest is up to them.

I’VE LEARNED -- that no matter how much I care, some people just don't care back.

I’VE LEARNED -- that it takes years to build up trust and only seconds to destroy it.

I’VE LEARNED -- that it's not what you have in your live, but who you have in your life that counts.

I’VE LEARNED -- that you can get by on charm for about fifteen minutes, after that, you'd better know something.

I’VE LEARNED -- that you shouldn't compare yourself to the best others can do, but to the best you can do.

I’VE LEARNED -- that it's not what happens to people, it's what they do about it.

I’VE LEARNED -- that no matter how thin you slice it, there are always two sides.

I’VE LEARNED -- that you should always leave loved ones with loving words. It may be the last time you'll see them.

I’VE LEARNED -- that you can keep going long after you think you can't.

I’VE LEARNED -- that heroes are the people who do what has to be done when it needs to be done, regardless of the consequences.

I’VE LEARNED -- that there are people, who love you dearly, but just don't know how to show it.

I’VE LEARNED -- that sometimes when I'm angry I have the right to be angry but that doesn't give me the right to be cruel.

I’VE LEARNED -- that true friendship continues to grow even over the longest distance same goes for true love.

I’VE LEARNED -- that just because someone doesn't love you the way you want them to doesn't mean they don't love you with all they have.

I’VE LEARNED -- that no matter how good a friend is, they're going to hurt you every once in a while and you must forgive them for that.

I’VE LEARNED -- that it isn't always enough to be forgive by others, sometimes you have to learn to forgive yourself.

I’VE LEARNED -- that no matter how bad your heart is broken, the world doesn't stop for your grief.

I’VE LEARNED -- that our background and circumstances may have influenced who we are, but we are responsible for who we become.

I’VE LEARNED --that just because two people argue, it doesn't mean they don't love each other and just because they don't argue, it doesn't mean they do.

I’VE LEARNED -- that sometimes you have to put the individual ahead of their actions.

I’VE LEARNED -- that two people can look at the exact same thing and see something totally different.

I’VE LEARNED -- that no matter the consequences, those who are honest with themselves get farther in life.

I’VE LEARNED -- that your life can be changed in a matter of hours by people who don't even know you.

I’VE LEARNED -- that even when you think you have no more to give, when a friend cries out to you, you will find the strength to help.

I’VE LEARNED -- that writing, as well as talking, can ease emotional pains.

I’VE LEARNED -- that the people you care most about in life are taken from you too soon.

I’VE LEARNED -- that it's hard to determine where to draw the line between being nice and not hurting people's feelings and standing up for what you believe.

I’VE LEARNED -- to love and be loved.

Yes, I've learned.

* * *

When I was in grammar school, it went to the sixth grade. Every year each student – regardless of grade – had to memorize and recite poems that would get longer with each new year. Once I had a car load of 14-year-olds and I asked how many of them had memorized a poem in school. Yuck! came the response. They said they hated poetry, couldn’t stand to memorize, and because everybody refused to do it, there was no way.

About two minutes later the Rolling Stones came on the radio and I cut the volume to max. So here are my heathens, singing every word in perfect harmony with Mick Jagger, and I abruptly switched the radio off in mid-song. “I thought you told me you hated poetry! You couldn’t stand to memorize! My boys, can’t you see ‘I Can’t Get No Satisfaction’ is really a poem set to music!” The reply: “Songs are cool but Emily Dickinson is the pits ... crank the music back up!”

Mr. Bill Spears, who passed away in ’92, would have a special lunch once a month where he would invite a very select group of friends. During lunch we talked about everything, from current-day tragedies to the funniest jokes of the day. It was so much fun no one dared miss, nor did you dare beg away from the ice cream bowl at the end. Once the ice cream was served, Mr. Spears – an All-American quarterback at Vanderbilt who was one of the first unanimous selections in the College Hall of Fame -- would call on each of us around the table to recite a poem. Mr. Spears, John Guerry and those older who had in college adored studying the Classics, would hold the table spellbound. It was absolute pageantry to watch their faces as they, in turn, saw the delight in ours.

Oh, my goodness, the wonderful poems are life’s elixir. Some more of the more modern ones today…

* -- “Trust the wait. Embrace the uncertainty. Enjoy the beauty of becoming. When nothing is certain, anything is possible.”

* -- “The two things in life that you are totally in control over are your attitude … and your effort.”

* -- “Starve your distractions, feed your focus.”

* -- “Every morning you have two choices. Continue to sleep with your dreams or get up and chase them.”

* -- “Never forget three types of people. Those who helped you in difficult times, those who left you in difficult times, and those who put you in difficult times.”

* -- “You can’t go back and change the beginning. But you can start right where you are and change the ending.” – C.S. Lewis

* -- “Everybody has a chapter they don’t read out loud.”

* -- “H.O.P.E. – Hold. On. Pain. Ends.”

* -- “Truth is like surgery – it hurts but it cures. Lie is like a pain-killer. It gives instant relief but its side effects are forever.”

* -- “The biggest mistake is when we don’t listen to understand, but listen to reply.”

* -- “The key to success is playing the hand you’ve been dealt like it’s the one you wanted.”

* -- “You are the artist of your life. Don’t dare let anybody else touch the paintbrush.”

* -- “The first step to getting somewhere is to decide you aren’t willing to stay where you are.”

* -- “A bird sitting in a tree is never scared the branch may break, because her trust is not on the branch but in her own wings. Trust in yourself.”

* -- “Take the risk or lose the chance.”

* -- “Let it hurt. Let it bleed. Let it heal. Let it go.”

* -- “A man who wants to lead the orchestra must turn his back on the crowd.”

* -- “Become your poem.”

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