This is one of my favorite poems by Langston Hughes, Mother to Son. When one of my daughters was young, she changed it to Daughter to Mother and recited it to me at a time when my life seemed really as if it had been no crystal stair. Quite a few years and experiences have passed under the bridge since then. The poem is perfect as is, but as life’s struggles add layers of richness to one’s wisdom, I think that I would add onto this poem some kind of little postscript to thank God for every one of those difficulties: the bare places, the splinters and the places where the boards had been torn up. Each one of them was leading me on to the next landing, the next summit where there would be a new panorama view on life and truth. Thank you, Lord. Life did not seem like a crystal stair to me at times, but although it was in disguise, it truly was a crystal stair leading to you. That’s what life is all about! Something to remember when you’re going through tough times.
Mother to Son
BY LANGSTON HUGHES
Well, son, I’ll tell you:
Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
It’s had tacks in it,
And boards torn up,
And places with no carpet on the floor—
But all the time
I’se been a-climbin’ on,
And reachin’ landin’s,
And turnin’ corners,
And sometimes goin’ in the dark
Where there ain’t been no light.
So boy, don’t you turn back.
Don’t you set down on the steps
’Cause you finds it’s kinder hard.
Don’t you fall now—
For I’se still goin’, honey,
I’se still climbin’,
And life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.
Langston Hughes, “Mother to Son” from Collected Poems. Copyright © 1994 by The Estate of Langston Hughes.
I’ve changed the picture at the top of my page. There is a little story behind the photo. Recently, my husband and i went camping for a week in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. We love hiking but at the outset of our vacation our hiking legs usually need an upgrade. On the first day, we went on a lovely and not too demanding hike to the top of Mount Willard. The view from the top is outstanding and I recommend it highly. The second day we went to Arethusa Falls. It was about as demanding as the first day’s hike and the beauty of the falls was incredible. On the third day, we just began hiking without really knowing our destination, but God knew where we were going. After about an hour and a half of hiking we had to choose: continue upwards to the summit of Mount Jackson or head downwards to see another falls? Well, we prefer to do our hard work of upward climbing first, so we headed up.
The description of the “moderately difficult” climb did not prepare us for the rest of the hike up the mountain. It was NOT moderate, at least not in my definition of the word. Very near the end, we met a man with a young boy coming down and the man encouraged us to go on because, as he said, “It’s only a few minutes to the top.” I thought, “If a kid can do it, I can too.” Hehe. Those few minutes necessitated scrambling over enormous boulders with only a few small branches on the sides to hang onto. But then … we reached the top. John went first and told me to try to make it. He said it would be worth it. At the top was a panorama perhaps a hundred times more beautiful than the picture you see at the top of my page. There were no trees, so you could see 360 degrees around. Mount Washington rose in the distance and the valley that we had come from meandered much further below us than I had imagined. We took a lot of pictures and gaped in awe of God’s creation that remains so beautiful in spite of what man has done to it. The wind began to whistle and the clouds foretold a possible change in the weather and so we had to tear ourselves away from that gorgeous spot. I think that it will always remain in my mind as the most amazing and beautiful view I have ever seen, the view of a lifetime.
A simple hike on a normal day. We started out, not knowing where we were going. Life is like that. We start out not knowing our path or where it will lead us, but we keep on climbing. I would like to encourage everyone out there to keep on climbing. Choose the way up. It may be difficult, even more difficult than you had anticipated, but when you get to the top, the view will be more beautiful than anything you could have imagined. God can show you things in this life that will stay with you forever. Those views will encourage you through the hard times and lead you onward. Take the risk. God is so worth it. He is the summit of all summits, the panorama of all panoramas.