Monday, October 19, 2015

Paying Attention to Mary Oliver

Do you know Mary Oliver?

The American, Pulitzer prize winning poet from Provincetown who has written some of the most beloved poems our planet has seen.  She's recently come out with a new book of poetry called "Felicity," but one of my all-time favorites, which seems odd to share in the dead of Autumn is "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?

Maybe it's because I went on a long run yesterday that felt more like summer than fall infused.  Or maybe it's that I've spent my morning buried in laundry and dishes listening to Mary Oliver being interviewed by Krista Tippett, the host of "On Being."  Or maybe, it's because as of late, I've been acutely aware of what it means to be attentive to the little, particular things that abound in my life.

Like the grasshopper.

The trail was flooded with them yesterday and I kept feeling compelled to look down for fear that I'd be the culprit who smooshed one of them as they seemed to be bounding out of every crevice.  But they didn't seem afraid, they kept jumping and hopping on each other and eventually, onto my leg which had me squealing as I motored by. 

After a weekend of single parenting while my better half and oldest kiddo were on a camping trip, it hit me.  Paying attention to the particular is the key to moving through general malaise.  It's being intentional with the world instead of taking it all for granted.

Which led me to another of Mary Oliver's brilliant pieces.  It's the third part to "The Fourth Sign of the Zodiac" installation written after she was diagnosed with cancer.

I know, you never intended to be in this world.
But you're in it all the same.
so why not get started immediately.
I mean, belonging to it.
There is so much to admire, to weep over.
And to write music or poems about.
Bless the feet that take you to and fro.
Bless the eyes and the listening ears.
Bless the tongue, the marvel of taste.
Bless touching.
You could live a hundred years, it's happened.
Or not.
I am speaking from the fortunate platform
of many years,
none of which, I think, I ever wasted.
Do you need a prod?
Do you need a little darkness to get you going?
Let me be urgent as a knife, then,
and remind you of Keats,
so single of purpose and thinking, for a while,
he had a lifetime.

According to Mary Oliver, intentional living begins when we choose to give our full attention to the moment which spins and molds and morphs and flows into our devotion which ultimately, creates a life.

So often, we keep waiting for the big, revolutionary experience...the vacation, the trip of a lifetime, the promotion, the renovation of a kitchen, a bathroom, the new lease on the shinier car, the countdown to a 30-day extreme body challenge, the pinnacle, the summit, the peak. 

Meanwhile, a million grasshoppers have jumped, leaves have changed, children have grown by inches, the temperature has shifted, the sun has come up and gone down day over day.

All for you and all for me.

But have we noticed?  Did we pay it attention?  Honor it?  Express gratitude?  Linger in it for a little longer?

For me, I can say no.  It's just so much easier to be consumed in the distractions and the minutia of the living part, until I stop and give myself permission to put those tasks on hold and take in the utter mystery of everything from a grasshopper to a red leaf to the color of my children's eyes.  And when I do, I am astounded.  Truly.

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