Married to Amazement
Birth, death, breath. We need not look far for sources of amazement.
During the week of January 14, my heart completed four back flips then stuck the landing in a world of confusion: Joy! Sadness. Joy! Sadness. Talk about a weird experience of emotional extremes… Upside-down and inside-out… and boy, did I feel it.
When my partner’s mother called me to say she had just become a great-grandmother, I felt ecstatic! I hung up the phone and tried to resume my previous activities, but I simply could not contain the joy in my heart. I called her back a few minutes later: “I can’t sit with this news by myself! I need to give you a hug!” She replied, “Come on over!” For a good hour we sat in her living room and gushed over photos of the red-faced, blanket-wrapped, tiny-hat-wearing newborn. We even made a sign with printer paper and markers welcoming the baby into the family, then took selfies with the sign and sent the photos to the baby’s parents, who live out of state. It was so fun! A new person entered the world. How wonderful! How exciting! How miraculous! It was such an amazing day.
Later in the week, I learned that one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, died at the age of 83. When I heard this news, I felt sad, but the grief was tempered with understanding and acceptance; she had lived a long, inspired life and she left us an incredible legacy: Her esteemed body of work. She received the National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize; she was no literary slouch. I’d only discovered her work a few years ago, but she quickly became one of my muses and her “praise poems,” sources of comfort. In an interview she gave last year to the “On Being” podcast, she said, “I acknowledge my feelings and gratitude for life by praising the world and whoever made living things.” Her way of communing with nature and translating her nuanced observations into accessible language connected strongly with me and many others in my spiritual community. People in my social circles shared poems like “Wild Geese” and “The Summer Day” so frequently that I began to think of Mary Oliver like a member of my extended family. Indeed, like many others, I ask myself the poignant question that ends her poem, “The Summer Day”: What do I plan to do with my one wild and precious life?
When I offered my first creative-arts workshop of this new year, I left the experience feeling joyful and grateful for what I hope will become a future of community-building through the arts. Over two hours, I witnessed the participants as they connected mindfully to their creativity and then shared with each other about their image-making experience in a such a beautiful, authentic way. While they were creating, I took about ten minutes to make a quick artwork: A mandala that elaborates on my new year’s intention about living with integrity (as I wrote about in my previous blog post), noting that it is “Sacred Ground.” The participants left our time together with their own colorful artworks, personal intentions for the new year, and some plans to activate those intentions. I expressed appreciation to the participants for joining me, and they reciprocated that sentiment.
So much contentment; then, wham! The very next day I learned that my friend, Judy, died, having lost a battle with an illness. She was a strong supporter of my creative arts workshops, so what hit me first was the realization that I would not be able to tell her about how well “Create Your Vision 2019” went the day before. Then I realized I would not see her at spiritual services again; in fact, I would never see her anywhere again except in my memory. In a room full of people who had just heard the sad news of her passing, I wept. Later, I found a photo of us that was taken two years ago, after she had attended one of my workshops. I remember how it warmed my heart to hear her tell me how much she enjoyed the workshop, how excited she was to have found a piece of birch tree bark in the supply kit (it held strong meaning for her), and how glad she felt that I was offering these arts experiences to enrich our community. She told me I was doing a great job, and I felt very grateful for her kind words.
In the months since she received her diagnosis, I had not seen Judy in person. I knew she was receiving challenging medical treatments. I had, however, sent cards to wish her well which included messages of hope and appreciation for her past support. I considered reaching out to her in a more direct way, to offer to bring some art supplies to her home, to spend some time creating with her. But for one reason or another I didn’t make that call. One reason was that I thought she and her family might want privacy, as I had wanted when my own late parents had experienced serious illnesses in recent years. Another reason probably has to do with my discomfort around illness, having been a full-time caregiver for my father in the three years before he died. Long goodbyes are hard for me, but I now regret not reaching out to discover if Judy might have wanted my company. I hope that attending her upcoming memorial service will bring me into contact with others who knew and loved her and provide some sense of closure; it’s difficult to sit with these feelings of loss.
As I take the entirety of the week’s events into account, I cannot ignore the facts: One of my friends died and my community lost a beloved sister, but just a few days earlier a baby was born. And I’m sure many more babies have been born since then. I wonder, do births temper the loss we feel from deaths? For every death there is a birth of some kind, whether it is, in this case, the birth of a human being, or the birth of an idea, or a new connection between people, or a new artwork, or simply a new breath. As I consider that, I take one breath, then another. Through some miracle the creation of breath happens inside my body without me doing anything special. Breath joins us at our beginning and leaves us at our ending. Breath joins us as one people no matter where we live or what religion we are or whom we love. I’m reminded of the phrase Mary Oliver used in her poem, “When Death Comes,” that I have borrowed, in homage, as the title for this essay: “When it’s over, I want to say all my life / I was a bride married to amazement.” Birth, death, breath. We need not look far for sources of amazement.
Meditating on the kind of circle-of-life stuff I have shared here reminds me how important it is to tell people I know and love how much I appreciate them and the myriad ways they contribute to my life. I won’t have these folks in my life forever; and who knows, I may depart before they do. This I know: I’m glad I raced over to my partner’s mother’s house to share joy with her. I’m glad I spent time reading over some of my favorite Mary Oliver poems after I learned of her passing. I’m glad I expressed appreciation to my workshop participants for their support. And I’m glad I took the opportunity to send my friend thoughtful cards and hopeful messages before she died. I’m really glad I did that; it inspires me to take more opportunities to express appreciation to my friends and family.
Each person who touches my life is a source of amazement. I will tell them how much I care about them and how much the little things, the tiny moments, the things I take for granted, really do matter. We never know how much a kind word or action shared with a loved one or even a stranger can impact that person’s day, week, or month. Words matter. I hope we can all connect with feelings of appreciation and give birth to our own “praise poems” in the form of more kindness toward others and ourselves. How amazing that would be!