Everywhere I turn, it seems that people are talking about building resilience and developing self-care strategies; it makes sense given the chaotic and heartbreaking times we’re living in. Yet, a big question for me is how we can stay aware and engaged in the world while also taking an active role in protecting our well-being and happiness. Where do we find comfort and connection when the big waves come rolling in?
I’ve started a list of the lifesavers that help me stay afloat during turbulent times: ditching the devices and getting outside, having a heart-to-heart with a friend, indulging in the 3 C’s (caffeine chocolate, and carbs), taking a fragrant bath, and cranking up my favorite playlist because, as Alice Walker says, “Hard times require furious dancing.”
I also find that poetry can ease heartache and offer an immediate, albeit temporary, respite for the soul. For this reason, I return again and again to the poetry of Mary Oliver. As is the case with all good art, her poems have a touch of the eternal in them; they shapeshift and reveal new perspectives with each reading. Oliver’s work, firmly planted in the natural world, is both accessible and fresh. In embracing both the troubles and the beauty of the world, she gifts the reader with a sense of buoyancy, wonder, and healing.
I’ve picked a few of my favorite ones for you. May they serve as glimmers of hope, like the glory of sunlight shining on the water after a storm.
On the beach, at dawn:
four small stones
clearly hugging each other.
How many kinds of love
might there be in the world,
and many formations might they make
and who am I ever
to imagine I could know
such a marvelous business?
When the sun broke
it poured willingly its light
over the stones
that did not move, not at all,
just as, to its always generous term,
it shed its light on me,
my own body that loves,
equally, to hug another body.
I thought the earth
remembered me, she
took me back so tenderly, arranging
her dark skirts, her pockets
full of lichens and seeds. I slept
as never before, a stone
on the riverbed, nothing
between me and the white fire of the stars
but my thoughts, and floated
light as moths among the branches
of the perfect trees. All night
I heard the small kingdoms breathing around
me, the insects, and the birds who does their
work in the darkness? All night I rose and fell
as if in water, grappling with a luminous
doom. By morning I had vanished at least a
dozen times into something better.
The crows see me.
They stretch their glossy necks
In the tallest branches
Of green trees. I am
Possibly dangerous, I am
Entering the kingdom.
The dream of my life
Is to lie down by a slow river
And stare at the light in the trees–
To learn something by being nothing
A little while but the rich
The lens of attention.
But the crows puff their feathers and cry
Between me and the sun,
And I should go now.
They know me for what I am.
No eater of leaves.
This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
to break my heart
as the sun rises,
as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers and they open —
pools of lace,
white and pink —
and all day the black ants climb over them, boring their deep and mysterious holes
into the curls,
craving the sweet sap,
taking it away to their dark, underground cities —
under the shifty wind,
as in a dance to the great wedding,
the flowers bend their bright bodies,
and tip their fragrance to the air,
their red stems holding
all that dampness and recklessness
gladly and lightly,
and there it is again —
beauty the brave, the exemplary,
Do you love this world?
Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?
Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
and exclaiming of their dearness,
fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,
with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
of sitting out on the sand to watch
the moon rise. It’s full tonight.
So we go and the moon rises, so beautiful it
makes me shudder, makes me think about
time and space, makes me take
measure of myself: one iota pondering heaven. Thus we sit, myself thinking how grateful I am for the moon’s
perfect beauty and also, oh! how rich
it is to love the world. Percy, meanwhile,
leans against me and gazes up into my face. As though I were just as wonderful
as the perfect moon.
for just a little while
out of your busy
and significant day
for the goldfinches
that have gathered
in a field of thistles for a musical battle,
to see who can sing
the highest note,
or the lowest, or the most expressive of mirth,
or the most tender?
Their strong, blunt beaks
drink the air as they strive
not for your sake
and not for mine and not for the sake of winning
but for sheer delight and gratitude – believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.
I beg of you, do not walk by
to attend to this
It was a rather ridiculous performance. It could mean something.
It could mean everything.
It could be what Rilke meant when he
wrote: You must change your life.