We have talked a lot about Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” poem on Magpie in the past —
But some days it bears re-reading, and seeds new tendrils of interpretation. Have these lines really always been there, in the middle, as though incumbencies for my future self?:
“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.”
A reminder that texts are mirrors, or receivers, or some kind of malleable medium in which we are graced to learn about ourselves and the world around us.
I wrote last week about the death of a colleague and received such wonderful notes, some from individuals who knew him and others from empathetic strangers. It felt good to remember him in many of these exchanges: its own kind of therapy. I will need to write separately on this insight, but I have learned in my life that people surprise you in the most wonderful ways when you let them in. There is a great comment in the show “Sex Education” where a mother chides her son for not letting her know about a competition in which he is competing, adding: “People like to know about these things. People like to show up.” This has proven true in my narrow life in matters big and small. You open the door, and there is Anna with a bag of groceries, and there is Mike with a thoughtful note. We are born to huddle together.
It took some of those conversations late last week for me to realize that I had been accommodating a sense of remove or formality in my own grief, as though I was not entitled to admit how profoundly I have felt this loss because I was not close to Nate at the end of his life. Life moves, quickly, and colleagues fall out of touch: there is no malice or evil in it. I had not spoken with Nate in perhaps two years. Because of that ellipsis I had an instinct to deflect. Even telling my mother felt strange and performative. I was sad but sensed in some way that I must not lay claim to that sadness and so I found myself changing the subject. Instead, I would walk Tilly lost in thought. I woke up several times each night after I heard the news in a kind of breathless panic thinking of him. I felt very strongly a sense of sequestration in my own thoughts — “Meanwhile the world goes on,” I observed, partly cajoling myself, while I sat stock-still and stuck.
For a time I spent more of my life with Nate than nearly anybody else, and it was not until a fellow colleague shared a sense of resentment over the fact that his last exchange with Nate had been trivial and some time ago that I found myself writing: “But it is OK to grieve, and profoundly, even if you have not been particularly close recently.” A memo to myself, really.
There are no rules to grief. It can come barreling down a highway at you or delicately cloud your vision, vapor-like and immaterial. It can move and it can stick. We can grieve people we knew intimately yesterday and those we have not seen in years. We can grieve people midway around the world enduring a senseless war, and for neighbors whom we’ve seen every day for years but never truly gotten to know. There are no checkpoints, no permissions needed. There are no proper ways to grieve.
And meanwhile the world goes on, in a forward march both therapeutic and cruel. One of the great difficulties of accepting death: life continues, more or less business as usual. How can it be? I say this pointedly, writing from my usual perch in my usual routine, while women like me are enduring other-worldly tragedy in Ukraine.
Tell me, then, about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine — yes. The exchanges about Nate gave some of us — myself, certainly — the space to sort through our feelings and honor his memory simply by virtue of reminding us we are not alone in our despairs. This, then, is the great gift of Mary Oliver’s poem:
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.”
+More on grief: “I wish I could remember everything, but today my tenderness will be enough.”
+Attention is a form of love.
+This under-$200 floral dress is adorable. The Great meets Agua Bendita?
+And this $27 eyelet-trim cover up is a no brainer on top!
+Serena and Lily vibes for $14.
+This top makes me feel like summer is just around the corner.
+FUN floral hoops.
+Love this striped cardigan.
+Affordable children’s basics!
+Easter finds for littles here — to which I would add these garden-centric pants, which I am buying for my son!
+Just bought this adorable little bag for a three year old’s birthday party!
+These scarf print pants are SO chic.
+Love this inexpensive blue sweatshirt.
+I love keeping things like these in my purse just in case.
+These scalloped fruit dishes are beyond adorable.
+This embroidered sweater is gorgeous.
+Love this gingham maxi. Would work with bump, too!