When I was in seventh grade, I attended a middle school in Memphis, Tennessee.
Having relocated from a rural area, I learned a lot that was new to me in the years I lived in the city, but some of the best lessons happened in one particular classroom: Mrs. Malone’s English class.
I was an extremely reserved young girl, and Mrs. Malone put me at ease instantly. Because she built the kind of rapport with all her students that only truly excellent teachers are capable of building, I remember more from her class than any other.
One lesson in particular has stayed with me, and it’s been a fantastic life hack for dealing with stress, heartbreak, change and so many other challenges in life.
It may sound simplistic, but Mrs. Malone told us that once we committed something to memory we’d always have it. Years could go by, and when we needed it, it would still be there.
To this day, I can recite Robert Frost at the drop of a hat:
“Whose woods these are I think I know/ His house is in the village though/ He will not see me stopping here/ To watch his woods fill up with snow.”
I memorized the words I was asked to, and, years later, I can still reach inside my memory to recite them from start to finish.
But, how does this help me with stress, or anything else?
We can commit quotes, prose, poetry, and even song lyrics to memory. If we practice doing this, those words will be there when we need them. We can memorize words to deal with loneliness or anger or sadness. We can memorize words of joy or celebration. We can commit to memory words that give us hope, that remind us of all the beauty in life for times we feel that we can’t go on.
We can use the power of our own memory to help us get through difficult times and to make good times even better.
I offer this starter list to offer an idea of how this can be done. Of course, what appeals to me might not appeal to you. What’s important is not what or who we memorize but how it resonates with our individual souls.
If we choose and remember the words that ring true for us, we’ll be able to call on them later, in so many different situations.
For wanderlust: “Travel,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
“My heart is warm with the friends I make/ And better friends I’ll not be knowing/ Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take/ No matter where it’s going”
For heartache: “Time Does Not Bring Relief,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Time does not bring relief; you all have lied/ Who told me time would ease me of my pain!/ I miss him in the weeping of the rain/ I want him at the shrinking of the tide”
And “After a While,” by Veronica Shoffstall
“So you plant your own garden and decorate your own soul/ Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers”
For moving on: “Frida Kahlo to Marty McConnell,” by Marty McConnell
“leaving is not enough, you must stay gone, train your heart…. you take a lover who looks at you like maybe you are magic… you loved a man with more hands than a parade of beggars, and here you stand, heart like a four-poster bed, heart like a canvas…”
For confidence: “Phenomenal Woman,” by Maya Angelou
“It’s the flash in my eyes/ And the flash of my teeth/ The swing in my waist/ And the joy in my feet/ I’m a woman/ Phenomenally/ Phenomenal woman/ That’s me.”
For change: “The Journey,” by Mary Oliver
“One day you finally knew what you had to do, and began/ though the voice around you kept shouting their bad advice/ though the whole house began to tremble and / you felt the old tug at your ankles…/ But little by little, as you left their voices behind/ the stars began to burn through the sheets of clouds/ and there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own…”
For hope: “Hope is the Thing with Feathers,” by Emily Dickinson
“Hope is the thing with feathers/ That perches in the soul/ And sings the tune without the words/ And never stops at all”
For desire: “I Crave Your Mouth, Your Voice, Your Hair,” by Pablo Neruda
“I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair/ Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets/ Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day/ I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps”
For love: “Love Sonnet XVII,” by Pablo Neruda
“I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where/ I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride/ so I love you because I know no other way/ Than this: where I does not exist, nor you/ So close that your hand on my chest is my hand/ So close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.”
In taking the time to commit a few words to memory here and there, we are shoring ourselves up for whatever may come.
We can hold on to them in times of change. We can let the repetition of the words bring us some measure of peace.
It’s funny how of all the things I learned over the years, I still recall being 13, skinny, and awkward, sitting on a too-hard wooden seat in a too-old desk listening with rapt attention to each classmate recite the same poem from memory.
And all these years later, the words are still there for the taking, just waiting for my attention.
It seems a small thing—a party trick—but I can’t help thinking if I use them well, these words I have gathered will continue to counsel and comfort me through many of life’s challenges to come.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Callie Rushton