"Famous" 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.


Recently I read over "Famous" by Naomi Shihab Nye. There's something to be said there, about the nature of simplicity, of smallness, and the power within it all.

Perhaps this is an overgeneralization, but I believe that at times we tend to get caught up in the whirlwind of grand things. Things like our future plans, our lives, those that we'll love and ultimately decided to spend forever with. The things that we take great pride in, as we should. The events that are postable and posable, and honestly, rightfully so.

As talked over in past articles, the prospect and the event of failure or shattered plans can leave us feeling empty, sore from another let down. I believe we use these large, grand moments as strongholds. We are often understood by others, step by step, by our careers and our partners and our hobbies; what we do.

When we think of the word "famous," perhaps we think of stars, actresses, actors, singers, Hollywood. Maybe we think of ourselves, how really, we just want to be well-renowned, well-known for something. I know I do. But, in light of failed plans, I am reminded that perhaps the smaller parts of the world count more than we may know.

Sometimes, what we are and where we are, right now, is enough. Our little quirks, the little things that we do, are all enough, in some odd way. I like to think that this poem can remind us that what we inherently carry within us, what God Himself has placed so intentionally, can be used more than we realize. We each play a part.

As fish are to a river, as tears are to cheeks, maybe Nye reminds us that we all have our place. The good, the bad, everything, is well-known for something, even if small. Famous doesn't need to come in shouts or in lights or in followers. I think famous is what we each contribute so inherently. I guess it sort of takes a load-off.

As the second-to-last stanza states, perhaps all we must do is start small. As the saying goes, "grow where you're planted." Maybe being "the one who smiled back" is famous enough, good enough. Maybe that's where we can begin. Don't overlook the little blessings. Like a good coupon or a stranger's compliment. These things count, too.

I believe this poem contains so much authenticity, and kindness. Perhaps we should strive to simply do what God has created us to do, to follow that still small voice that beckons us a little further on, onto what we know in our hearts to be good. It's okay if plans fail, I've learned God's a lot bigger than all of that. It's hard not to worry, but I promise, it will get better. Focus on the little blessings, and on famously doing your part.