Congratulations to Laura Simmons for Winning the April 2024 Barefoot Writing Challenge! (Your $100 prize is on its way!)

The challenge was to write an essay that answered this prompt:

April is National Poetry Month. Share a poem that is particularly meaningful to you, and explain why.

Laura shared a touching poem about the art of moving forward. Enjoy her winning submission:

Laura SimmonsJohn O’Donohue’s “For the Interim Time” has stayed with me for nearly two decades. O’Donohue wrote many blessings, collected in To Bless the Space Between Us. In our increasingly nonreligious culture, we don’t often talk about the concept of “blessing.” I love the idea of offering a gift of words to another, especially in situations when they may have no words.

Each of the poems in O’Donohue’s collection is a blessing — in this case, a blessing for times of transition. I taped this poem onto my office wall after one of my parents died. The language is vivid:

The path you took to get here has washed out;
The way forward is still concealed from you.
“The old is not old enough to have died away;
The new is still too young to be born.” …

Over the years, this poem has grown in depth for me. Twice since 2017, I have walked away from a career, turning my back on retirement funds, health insurance, and other benefits. The first time it happened, I took a 60% pay cut. I live in a state of “the way forward is still concealed.” But I take consolation in this:

Do not allow your confusion to squander
This call which is loosening
Your roots in false ground,
That you might come free
From all you have outgrown.

Remembering that I have outgrown the “false ground” of those previous worlds helps me move forward with confidence. I have to trust that all my previous experiences (even the difficult or painful ones — maybe especially the difficult or painful ones) have planted seeds out of which my new growth as a freelancer will come. I also have to trust the pace of the process:

What is being transfigured here is your mind,
And it is difficult and slow to become new.

It takes time to adjust to a world in which you provide your own structure, accountability, community, and support. I have been freelancing for just under a year; I am still learning what works for me (Focusmate for coworking — thank you, Ilise Benun!) and what doesn’t (lacking routines).

When I left my first career, I “fled the country” and walked part of the Portuguese route of the Camino de Santiago (a pilgrimage route ending in northwest Spain), musing on transition. There is something powerful about walking — the pace is so much slower than that of driving or flying, you notice things you might not otherwise see. On the bridge between Valença, Portugal, and Tui, Spain, there is a painted line at the border between the two countries. We can’t always see borders — and when we do, we don’t often linger there. This painted borderline is enhanced by two pairs of footprints: one going north, the other heading south. Drivers don’t even see this visual representation of change, but every walker stops, takes a photo, notices: I am headed into a new country.

What new country beckons you now?