Monday, July 7, 2008

The Cardinal and Mary Oliver

I was horribly depressed this past winter. A.J. got a mystery illness in January that resulted in two E.R. visits and lasted for almost 3 whole months. He was totally unavailable emotionally and physically and the whole deal really tested our relationship.

On top of that, I was taking the hardest course I've ever taken in my life. The course was taught by a no bullshit math whiz. It was two courses rolled into one and moved at lightning speed over really difficult topics. At the same time, I was also working forty hours per week and taking another difficult course that demanded a lot of attention.

I was SO.FREAKING.TIRED. by the time April rolled around. My life had somehow unraveled itself and I was panicking. How the hell am I going to fix all this? What the hell am I doing, anyway?

So I was trucking along, in the aftermath of school and disease and difficult friendships, and one day, I heard a cardinal. And it changed everything (for a week).

As I was climbing the stairs to my porch, a bird song caught my attention. Above the noise of the street, the school kids playing soccer, the neighbors dog. I searched the trees surrounding the apartment building and soon spotted the songster. He was a brilliant red and each time he called out, he looked like he was putting every tiny bit of life and breath into it. Something about him, his music, snapped me right back into myself. I vowed to sit, each day, and listen to him sing for a few minutes before retiring for the night.

So I did...and in doing so, I got a little closer to myself. Y'see, before I started to hide out in a drug-induced coma-like lifestyle, I was a nature sitter. Every night, even in the winter, I'd wrap myself in a blanket and stare up at the stars. I took long walks by myself and sat, alone, on the lake shore. Nature was enough. I was enough when I was outdoors. I was small, insignificant and that was so reassuring.

But that got away from me. I was no longer longer insignificant and small. My problems loomed large and they consumed me and I stopped learning how to breathe and relax and shrug off the weight of living. And even when I stopped gettin' high, nothing was ever enough.

Somehow, though, for a brief time this spring, I got back to being a nature sitter. There's something incredibly beautiful and simple and sacred about the natural world and it resonates in me. I can't do it justice with words, but if I could, I'd write something like this:

Morning Poem
by Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.
Under the orange

sticks of the sun
the heaped
ashes of the night
turn into leaves again

and fasten themselves to the high branches ---
and the ponds appear
like black cloth
on which are painted islands

of summer lilies.
If it is your nature
to be happy
you will swim away along the soft trails

for hours, your imagination
alighting everywhere.
And if your spirit
carries within it

the thorn
that is heavier than lead ---
if it's all you can do
to keep on trudging ---

there is still
somewhere deep within you
a beast shouting that the earth
is exactly what it wanted ---

each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
every morning,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

from Dream Work (1986)

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