Fame that brings Joy

I’ve heard it said that in New York City it’s all about money and in L.A. it’s all about fame. I think that’s probably true. Still, the hunger for fame is more ravenous than any one city or industry. It pervades the whole of the Western world. We want to be bigger than our neighbor, bigger than the kids who spurned us in high school. Trending Big. Times Square Big. Known by our first names Big. This is what our kids have been raised to dream of, fed on a steady diet of youtubers and 1st-round Draft money and Disney Channel dreams. There is no need for me to tell you that this sort of fame is elusive—at best. If only we could remember that we were all made for a certain fame, a fame that is ours alone, a fame that we don’t even have to compete for. Some call it vocation, and it is beautifully captured here in a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye.


The river is famous to the fish.

The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.

The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.

The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.

The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.

The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.

The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.

I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.

I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.

“Famous” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Portland, Oregon: Far Corner Books, 1995). Copyright © 1995 by Naomi Shihab Nye.

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