Transitions with Mary Oliver

With the news of poet Mary Oliver’s passing last week, I was reminded of the ways in which her words have escorted me in and out and over life’s welcome (and unwelcome) invitations to spiritual and personal transformation. The following excerpt was written and read to a small group in May of 2018. It is a reflection of the most tender moments of my transition to this new creation we call The Land.

Mary Oliver once told me, in words written on a page, whispered to my heart,

“And you must not, ever, give anyone else the responsibility of your life.”

I roll my eyes at mother’s advice sitting at the kitchen table as a child being lectured pretending not to listen. Mother Mary, floats over the charade and pours herself a fresh cup of coffee.

“I don’t mean it’s easy or assured; there are the stubborn stumps of shame, grief that remains unsolvable after all the years, a bag stones that goes with one wherever one goes and however the hour may call for dancing and for light feet. But there is, also, the summoning world, the admirable energies of the world, better than anger, better than bitterness and, because more interesting, more alleviating. And there is the thing that one does, the needle one plies, the work, and within that work a chance to take thoughts that are hot and formless and to place them slowly and with meticulous effort into some shapely heat-retaining form, even as the gods, or nature, or the soundless wheels of time have made forms all across the soft, curved universe – that is to say, having chosen to claim my life, I have made for myself, out of my work and love, a handsome life.”

There is a long silence.

My hands holding my head as my eyes absorb the life that exists beyond the glass wall.

“Where will we go from here?” I want to ask her.

But the page has ended and she has gone to rest up while she lays waiting for my arrival into the next chapter. A transition from forest to field. I have argued with myself long enough to realize there is no one waiting to offer the permission needed to begin breathing again. To take up space. To live out in the open. Sometimes all it takes is the sound of our voice in the silence of a room to startle us into showing up.

With the swirl of political discontent surrounding us, may it be the words of the poets and the witness of the prophets that continue to sustain us in the act of showing up.