Think for a moment about the best gift you have ever received. What made it so different from all the rest?

The best gifts are those that hold special meaning to us, that speak to the heart of who we are. They emerge from an intimate place, sprung by people who know what’s important to us.

On March 12, I celebrated my birthday and received a gift that I will open again and again throughout my life. In fact, I told my daughters that if my house burns down, this is what I will grab before running out the door. Hugh asked, “What about me?” Oops!

Knowing how much I love words, my daughters, Anna and Mary, wrote to family and friends and asked them to write and dedicate a favorite quote, poem, lyric, or passage to me for my birthday. They received dozens of responses. Each literary gem was typed up on artisan paper and cut out with the name and message of the person sending the quote on the opposite side. I hope some of these quotes speak to you as caregivers. I will cherish them always:

My friend Holly quoted Ernest Hemingway:

The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.

Most people quoted famous authors. My brother John quoted something I once wrote about him being an annoying older brother:

You are the itch on my back that I cannot reach!

From my sister Mary:

What counts, in the long run, is not what you read;
It is what you sift through your own mind;
It is the ideas and impressions that are aroused in you by your reading.

— Eleanor Roosevelt

A beautiful one from my daughter Anna:

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.
— Rainer Maria Rilke

My friend Terry sent me back a favorite song lyric, one I first saw on Jan Tarasovic’s book blog (which by the way, is second to none!) Here’s the link.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in

— Leonard Cohen, "Anthem"

My sister Peg sent the lyrics to “Sweet Bird” by Joni Mitchell (My favorite singer/songwriter) Listen here.

From my friend MaryAnne, a quote from Josephine Baker:

He was my cream
and I was his coffee-
And when you poured us together
it was something

An original, by my brother Bill:

C’est la vie!
In French, it means “that’s life.” Typically used to mean “That’s the way the cookie crumbles,” or in modern parlance, “Shit happens.” In our home it meant,“Oh, well…things like this happen in life, and there’s nothing we can do about it,” followed immediately by a song that was meant to convey “let’s keep singing and things will get better.”

My cousin Larry sent John Anster’s poetic translation of Goethe’s Faust:

Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute;
What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it;
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Hugh’s childhood friend and surfing buddy Murn wrote:

You become what you think about all day long.
— E. Nightingale

(Yikes, better change those thoughts now!)

Wonderful Mac sent William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29. Here’s the ending. It sounds like music:

Haply I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remember’d such wealth brings
That then I scorn to change my state with kings.

Nancy — my Zen friend — quoted a favorite of mine, Lau Tzu:

Let things flow naturally forward
in whatever way they like

From Pat my sister ... very fitting for many of us:

For just one second, look at your life and see how perfect it is.
Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting.

— Lev Grossman, The Magicians

My daughter Mary sent this lovely scene from Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery:

Look at the sea, girls — all silver and shadow and vision of things not seen. We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds.

My loving and logical husband, Hugh, quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine.

There were so many more. I’m already wearing out the papers. But here is one of my absolute favorites, and I hope you like it too. It was sent by my sister Peg and it’s a quote by Mary Oliver:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it is over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

What words speak to you?

Comments (4)

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Rosemary, what a fortunate woman you are, to have relatives who send such beautiful gifts! I'm going to write some of my favorites from your post into the tiny journal in which I save quotations that move me in some way.
Words can perform miracles. If only we would let them. They sing to us, calm us, inspire us. They are the perfect others and to ourselves.
Oh I love this so much! What a wonderful birthday idea! And these quotes -- so many of them speak to me.
So inspiring! I'm going to come back and savor them one at a time (as I do with the winning bird photos on the Audubon site. Great de-stresser!)