by: Mary Oliver
August of another summer, and once again
I am drinking the sun
and the lilies again are spread across the water.
I know now what they want is to touch each other.
I have not been here for many years
during which time I kept living my life.
Like the heron, who can only croak, who wishes he
I wish I could sing.
A little thanks from every throat would be appropriate.
This is how it has been, and this is how it is:
All my life I have been able to feel happiness,
except whatever was not happiness,
which I also remember.
Each of us wears a shadow.
But just now it is summer again
and I am watching the lilies bow to each other,
then slide on the wind and the tug of desire,
close, close to one another.
Soon now, I'll turn and start for home.
And who knows, maybe I'll be singing.
It's a gentle thing that Mary Oliver describes here. Summer. Sun. Lilies in a pond, tugging and dancing with each other. Happiness and the shadow of unhappiness.
I returned to work this morning after having ten days off. I rarely get that much personal time without pressing obligations. Either I'm hosting an event, teaching a class, or finishing a project. The last ten days, however, have been gentle and quiet, for the most part.
Happiness, I think, should be that way--like floating in a pond with people you care about, enjoying their warmth and closeness. But you can't have happiness without shadow. They kind of define each other. Shadow is the outline of happiness. In order to feel truly happy, you have to know what it means to be truly sad. There's no way around that.
I think of my son who is 14-years-old. Young people are invincible. At least, that's what they believe. Mortality is an alien concept for them, akin to the monsters in their closets or under their beds. They just don't think, on any kind of regular basis, about the fact that, one day, they will stop breathing and cease to exist. And that's good. Young people shouldn't worry about the shadow of death breathing down their necks.
So I let my son go along, being invincible, a superhero whose skin deflects bullets and blades. Who can eat anything he wants without the specters of diabetes or heart disease or cancer slapping that pizza out of his hands. He should feel safe in the universe. Protected. Loved.
I was a strange child. Obsessed with shadow. From a very young age, I thought about my own death. Reading my diaries and journals through the years, you would find several detailed drafts of my funeral plans, including music choices, seating plans, and menus. (For the record, there must be beef stroganoff and a chocolate fountain.) Death has been a part of my life and thoughts for as long as I can remember.
I think, in a weird way, I have benefitted from this relationship with impermanence. It reminds me really to cherish everything that brings joy into my life. To appreciate the day-to-dayness of things. Four years ago, I was at Walt Disney World for a two-week vacation. Recently, every morning, my Facebook feed has been filled with photos from that time. Lots of smiling and fruity alcoholic drinks and fireworks. It was a lovely period of respite.
However, looking back on those pictures now, I see shadows. Things have changed drastically since that trip. Loved ones have died. Relationships have ended. Life has changed. I write that without any kind of judgement. I know that the only constant in the universe is change.
But, taking a page from Mary Oliver's book (literally), I embrace the pond of today--the friends I laughed with, the food I ate, the tasks I did. The now-ness of everything.
Saint Marty could sing a song about all that.
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