Keats, A Roman Cemetery, and My Lesson in Self-Celebration

Keats Gravesite

Outside of my frequent trips to the bathroom, I spent the entire Tuesday in bed. No work. No play. I just laid there and cursed my stomach for the pain it was inflicting on me. Through my suffering, I did of course, find the strength to do a search of my symptoms on WebMD. I still don’t know the exact cause of my severe stomach cramps, but (sadly) I can pretty much pinpoint it to the dinner I cooked for myself the previous evening.

Wednesday morning I found the strength to pull myself out of bed after a full 24 hours of putting not one single calorie in my body. Plus, my stomach was still sore from the battle of the day before, but I had no more paid-time off to throw down the drain. Even if I did not one iota of work, I was going to make it to my desk come hell or high water. As I pulled out of the garage, while also patting myself on the back for finally making it on my way, I noticed two packages at my front door. My first instinct was to continue on my way and just get them when I returned home that evening. Then I quickly ran through the scenario of the conversation that would ensue between my Dad and I if said packages were to get stolen while I was away. I stopped the car, hesitantly got out, and grabbed the packages, hence today’s post. One was a clearly marked car part – definitely not for me. The other was in a package that I couldn’t easily gauge where it came from or more importantly who it was meant for. I glanced at the recipient name not expecting to find my name there, but it was exactly what was there: Nicole E. Jackson. I hadn’t ordered anything so I was very confused. As I excitedly and cautiously opened the cardboard box, it hit me: it was my book. Correction, it was the book that included an essay written by me. After about a year of going through the process of writing, editing, contracts, etc., it had finally arrived. I stood in the driveway holding a book with my name in it. I couldn’t believe it. I sent a text to my mom and dad. I showed it to my colleagues. I took pictures with my lovely book; pictures that were solely meant for the Facebook post that I would share later that day.

Me and my book!
Me and my newborn book!

Throughout the day, it seems my excitement over it diminished ever so slightly. It started when a colleague was interested in reading what I had written. In that moment, I remembered the less than confident feelings I had toward the execution of my essay. I remembered how uneasy I had felt when I submitted what would be my final draft. In the email, I recall telling the editor to feel free to leave out my portion if he felt it wasn’t up to par with the other submissions. With each remembrance, I felt less and less deserving of the feat that so many had dreamed of accomplishing. Since receiving the book, I have yet to flip to the page where my essay begins. I haven’t even posted my accomplishment on Facebook. As I came to grips with my feelings of inadequacy, I remembered a particular experience during my recent trip to Italy during a few unforgettable moments while in a Roman cemetery.

We were in the Testaccio neighborhood, on our way to the next restaurant on our Eating Italy Tour, when out of the blue our tour guide took us to a very unlikely place: a cemetery. Named The Non-Catholic Cemetery for Foreigners in Testaccio, it was (and still is) where non-Catholics who died while in Rome were buried. The famous, the infamous, the historical figures, we recognized their names written on beautifully constructed gravestones as we walked throughout the lush garden. Before our time was over, our guide assembled the group around a grave that bared a gravestone with no name. Where a name should have been there was the following writing:

“Here lies One whose Name was writ in Water.”

As we would quickly find out, it was the grave of the famous and much lauded poet, John Keats. Our guide saw the quizzical looks on our faces as we wondered why such a celebrated man lacked his name on his gravestone. It was his request, she explained. Before passing away at the very young age of 25, Keats had written his heart out and received very little to no acclaim. In fact, it wasn’t until after his death did his works receive the praise they were due. So, in his very last moments he felt so undeserving that he requested his name be left from the place where his body would lay, as Page Pulp writes, “to reflect the feeling that he had made no lasting mark on the world.”

I stood there for a couple of minutes thinking of the sadness of that story: a man who today is praised, thought so little of himself and the work he had given to the world. On my drive home today, I thought about the parallelisms of Keats’ disappointment with my feelings of inadequacy. Not only did I feel inadequate, I honestly didn’t take the time to think about and celebrate the accomplishment I had just achieved. I really just brushed it off and continued on as normal.

Although I am happy Keats’ work is now celebrated throughout the world, it would’ve been so awesome if he too could have recognized what others had yet to see in him while he was still alive.  I’ve decided that this will not be my story and hopefully it won’t be yours either. I think we owe it to ourselves to recognize, acknowledge, and celebrate the good that flows from us… even if no one else does.

Are there accomplishments in your life that you didn’t take the time to celebrate? Have you taken the opportunity to just celebrate who you are as a person? It’s great when others celebrate you, but it’s even better when you have first dibs at it.

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