My Origin Poem

side by side image of Jim Smith at age seven and present day

The Origin Poem

This second origins exercise (as mentioned in my previous post on Cultural Bio) — a fill-in-the-blanks worksheet — took far longer to complete and required that I decide which memories really define me. ‘twas a mostly positive and joyful exercise. I’ve uploaded instructions here if you’d like to try it (Word file)

Why bother? Sharing who you are and what’s behind the mask you wear today is a powerful way to signal to others that it’s okay for them to also be real.

You have to demonstrate openness, vulnerability, and trust if you expect others to be open, vulnerable, and trusting with you.

Again, notice what happens in you as you read this poem.

Where I’m From

I am from James Arthur Thomas Smith Junior.

I am from a loud-talking big-noisy family that revels in embarrassing new dating partners
by quizzing them on who’s who
among the 53 people they just met.

I am from hand-me-downs and patches and working three jobs to pay my own tuition and
duct tape to extend the life of my tennis shoes.

I am from corned beef and cabbage and diet Pepsi and homemade cocoa and
chicken wings when they were what the butcher threw away and
lots and lots and lots of leftovers as hash.

I am from climbing trees and swimming in creek beds and touching frogs and
leaving the house in the morning and getting lost on my bike and
coming home for dinner and mom never noticing I was gone,
she was so tired with all those babies.

I am from Connie and Billie and Melanie and Mama Roberts and
the babysitters who braved eight kids and
the community of Fordwick Rd moms who watched out for us, and
from all the young parents who reserved me early to babysit because I knew how to change diapers better than them.

I am from the monstrous weeping willow that spanned our yard with the big sitting-branch so high I could see all the way to the mall and into all the other backyards
without being seen.

I am from bacon and eggs and popcorn and spaghetti with Ragu
and watching black & white TV and trying desperately to understand football like my dad wanted me to, but not caring about it at all
and wondering what was wrong with me.

I am from Pittsburgh and Cleveland and before that
“Irish need not apply” and
a different name that was traded away because the Nazis made it impossible for my father to be German in America,

I am from Parma and the Heights, from Pleasant Lakes and abandoned woods with ponds and frogs.

I am from “Life is for the living,” and
“don’t throw that away!” and
“put it in the junk drawer,” and
“you’re big and ugly enough to do yourself” and
“if you can reach the dial, you can do your own laundry,” and
“if you want it, find a way to pay for it.”

I am from vacations on the Jersey shore, then the Maryland shore, then The Grand Strand,
from science fiction and maxxed-out library cards and
pop tarts for breakfast eaten at my desk after daily Mass and
paper routes and taking things apart and
putting them back together.

I am from a Catholic family, a Franciscan formation, a secular Jesuit tradition and
reading Armstrong’s “Islam: A Short History” on 9-11 and
the realization that we all worship the same god(s) by different names and
the bewilderment that we kill each other over who is being the kindest.

I am from doubt and rediscovery,
from Search to Witness weekends to absence to finding comfort in rituals,
from departures to arrivals, and
from learning to live with uncertainty.

I am from loss of
a brother and
a father and
a daughter,
from a place of grief and resilience, from deep darkness and bright memories.

I am from place of many hugs and family dinners at a huge table and always guests and
big messy Christmas gatherings and
noticing what really matters, of letting go of petty stuff and what other people think.

I am from choosing happiness and
deep breaths, and from
not enough to
not good enough to
you are enough.

I am Jim Smith.

What’s your origin story? Where are you from? What are the broken pieces and the happy ones?

Who are you, Really?