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Being at home in this world - In memory of Mary Oliver

January 25, 2019

When it's over, I want to say: all my life 

I was a bride married to amazement. 

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


When it's over, I don't want to wonder 

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, 

or full of argument.


I don't want to end up simply having visited this world.


-Mary Oliver (Excerpt from "When Death Comes")



Mary Oliver, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, passed away last week.


Oliver, played a significant role in opening my eyes to the beauty of poetry and I want to share, some of the ways, she both touched and helped me.


First, I have to confess, that until my mid-30s, I did not have much of an appreciation for poetry. That all changed, the moment I was introduced to Mary Oliver.


I was in a period of transition, having just left a career in investment management, without knowing what I wanted to do next. I was instantly hooked by Oliver’s ability, to so quickly arrive, at the core of the questions, I was wrestling with. In her poetry, I found a call to action, a reminder to wake up and be more vibrantly alive.


Oliver’s poems, invited me to take a walk in her shoes, to see the world through her eyes. With deceivingly simple language, she created observational tapestries, most often of nature and wildlife. Her dogs, the grasshopper or the wild geese flying overhead, were her wisdom carriers. 




Oliver’s poems, overflow with the curiosity, wonder and awe, of someone laying eyes on the world, for the first time. And through her eyes, I got to look at life afresh and to step through a door of newfound potentiality.



Let me keep my distance, always, from those


who think they have the answers.


Let me keep company always with those who say


"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,


and bow their heads.


-Mary Oliver (Excerpt from "Mysteries, yes")


With her ability to stay open, Oliver reminded me, to stay curious and present to the mystery that is life. To embrace and even celebrate the unknown. Up until that point, I had been rewarded and compensated for having answers. However, my pursuit of rationality, certainty and answers, had come a high existential cost. I had unknowingly shut myself off from the vibrancy of curiosity, wonder and appreciation.


During my time of transition, I found support in her insistence on listening to, and following my own voice. She knew, how easily our own voice, so faint initially, can get drowned out, by the chatter of many. Having Oliver in my corner, inspired me muster the courage to follow my own path


The Journey 

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice-
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.


-Mary Oliver



Oliver, followed her voice and she generously shared her journey with us. Her words continue to be a living legacy, a vibrant light of inspiration, for those still on the journey of life.


To capture, her bright wondering eyes and ability, to pose the most existential of inquiries, I leave the last words to Mary Oliver.


The Summer Day 

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-- the one who has flung herself out of the grass, the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?


-Mary Oliver


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