“Love after Love” by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

—from Collected Poems 1948–1984 by Derek Walcott

I first heard this poem, written by Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, who passed away just last month, years ago. I was on retreat in Maho Bay, St. John. Jon Kabat-Zinn, one of the presenters, opened by reciting the poem. Its words described what I was feeling at that point in my life perfectly. I appreciated the poem’s emphasis on the welcome home and not on time spent away. And that all paths, well marked or otherwise, guide us back home.

I was taken by the thought of coming home to myself, like a long lost friend who had been holding my place at the table until I found my way back. I felt that this poet understood me and captured my feelings. What a beautiful vision.

I had recently started a daily meditation practice and was experiencing emotions that I didn’t recognize as my own. I was so accustomed to my hypercritical mind and judgmental outlook that the feelings of compassion and tenderness were a refreshing break. These feelings reconnected me to a part of myself that felt like a long lost relative.

One goal of meditation and self-care is to create a sacred place of nurturing, comfort, and peace within that is forever yours. No matter what the outer circumstances of your life deliver, you feel safe and secure inside. As a child of loss and abandonment, this awareness was a dream come true.

Now I could feel a connection to those around me that did not exist when I was only able to manage my anxiety superficially. Healing the fragile places in our hearts opens up space to live truthfully, fully, and in the present moment. This is one of the greatest gifts we can offer any experience we meet.

If these concepts feel foreign to you, don’t let that throw you off. Building a foundation of self-care will help you get there, one step at a time. It will create a haven for you to return to when life feels fragile. It will polish the mirror of your life, and soon you will recognize the person gazing back at you as you.

You are awake now, and your commitment to this awakened state has ushered you home. Rest in the understanding that you are deserving of all the wonder that will unfold. Feast on this miracle. Your life depends on it.