A Funny Love

It’s odd and confusing to me, what love is. If we’re fortunate, there are a handful of people we love deeply in our lifetimes. Beyond that, there are more folks who matter to us, who brighten our lives, and make them better. These are people we know and care for (a beautiful expression I keep hearing from wise friends at church) up close, every day, or, at least, regularly. These are the people we love.

What, though, about the people we never meet and yet love? The ones we admire, look to, look up to, look forward to. Folks who move us, through their art, their writing, their athletic prowess, or their community-minded goodness. Is that love, what we feel for them? Can I love someone I’ll never even meet, let alone experience often and regularly?

Mary Oliver died today and there’s this tender, achy spot in my heart. It keeps getting poked and my eyes get damp and tickly at the sting. I check them, remind myself, I didn’t know this woman, there is no need for this. But what I most want to is to go home, to read my favorite poems and to cry. To mourn the loss of this person from our earth, this woman I never met.

Her poetry moved me, moves me, the way her poetry moves so many. It’s comforting, being on Instagram and seeing the people I follow all paying tribute to this hardy, elegant person, caring for her work, and the presence she shared publicly with us. Knowing her bright, precise, lush words will continue to burst across a plain white page is a comfort. Knowing she was brave and bold and shared her life, through poetry, with us, is inspiring. It’s not exactly love, though, is it? I can’t claim to (though I’ll toss it around lightly to describe my feelings about her work) love her, really. I think that’s OK. It’s right and honest, and while it’s not love, there is care, here, in this big, broad, breath-catching way. The world is grayer, and dimmer tonight for people all over the world because she’s gone from it. That care matters. I’m thankful for people who let themselves be known and cared for on a big stage. The people we’ll never touch, but who freely touch our hearts and our minds, as she did. Praying for us tonight, a world lacking a little now, with no Mary Oliver in it, but also celebrating for us, too, a world filled up because she so generously shared her extraordinary vision with us all.

I don’t know if this poem below is my favorite of hers, but it’s so truly good, it’s what I most want to share here. It’s specially good read out loud.

Thank you, Mary Oliver. Godspeed.


Mary Oliver


Understand, I am always trying to figure out

what the soul is,

and where hidden,

and what shape

and so, last week,

when I found on the beach

the ear bone

of a pilot whale that may have died

hundreds of years ago, I thought

maybe I was close to discovering something

for the ear bone  


is the portion that lasts longest

in any of us, man or whale; shaped

like a squat spoon with a pink scoop where

once, in the lively swimmer’s head,

it joined its two sisters

in the house of hearing,

it was only two inches long

and thought: the soul

might be like this

so hard, so necessary  


yet almost nothing.

Beside me

the gray sea was opening and shutting its wave-doors,

unfolding over and over

its time-ridiculing roar;

I looked but I couldn’t see anything

through its dark-knit glare;

yet don’t we all know, the golden sand

is there at the bottom,

though our eyes have never seen it,

nor can our hands ever catch it  


lest we would sift it down

into fractions, and facts


and what the soul is, also

I believe I will never quite know.

Though I play at the edges of knowing,

truly I know

our part is not knowing,

but looking, and touching, and loving,

which is the way I walked on,


through the pale-pink morning light.

Published by Ms E

This is a place for new beginnings. Because new is not easy and beginning is hard. So here we tackle it the same way we eat the elephant... Wife, mother, writer, eater, cooker, farmer, daughter, home-owner, dog-carer, reader, professional list-maker. Part-time worrier. Full-time believer.

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