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.
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.
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.