“Every morning I walk like this around
the pond, thinking: if the doors of my heart
ever close, I am as good as dead
Every morning, so far, I’m alive. And now
the crows break off from the rest of the darkness
and burst up into the sky – as though
all night they had thought of what they would like
their lives to be, and imagined
their strong, thick wings.”
– Mary Oliver, Landscape
I’m doing Mary Oliver an injustice not putting the entire poem here, for the full meaning of a poem comes from reading the entirety, but then again I’m pointing emphatically towards all of her work, imploring you to read more. When I first read this poem, Landscape, it was a gut punch for me. I’ve returned to it a few times and these lines still grab me, for they perfectly capture the frame of mind I’m in in my own life. It’s not lost on me that Mary Oliver passed away in 2019, and somewhere along the way that may have been how I found and keep returning to her work.
2019 has been a profound year of growth and change for me, from stoicism to spirituality to poetry, immersive trips to some places close to home and some bucket list travel to places further away. There’s friction in me that the writing has revealed, whether that’s mid-life nonsense or creeping unfinished business that gnaws at me, disrupting my day-to-day thoughts. I’ve become a better person this year, but know there’s a long way to go still. For as much as there is to be grateful for, Memento mori whispers in the wind, and I can hear it more than ever. Remember, we all must die… but every morning, so far, I’m alive. What shall you do with this gift? More, I say to myself, and this De Mello challenge comes to mind:
“People don’t live, most of you, you don’t live, you’re just keeping the body alive. That’s not life.” – Anthony De Mello
This isn’t a call to leave all that you’ve built, but instead to be fully alive and aware of the world around you. Break off from the rest of the darkness and be fully alive. Thoreau didn’t leave Concord, he immersed himself in the world at Walden Pond but still maintained contact with the people in his life. But his awareness grew in the stillness.
“Be it life or death, we crave only reality. If we are really dying, let us hear the rattle in our throats and feel cold in the extremities; if we are alive, let us go about our business… Time is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains.” – Henry David Thoreau, Walden
So I’m doing better at this awareness thing, and this making the most of the time you have thing, and I keep flapping the wings and fly when I can. Life isn’t just stacking one adventure upon another one, real living is immersion and awareness. Mary Oliver joined De Mello and Thoreau on the other side of life this year, this very year that I’ve made a few leaps forward in being more alive. Maybe adding her voice to the chorus of whispers from those who have left us was the tipping point, or maybe I was already there. But I’m grateful for her contribution nonetheless.