This weeks poem in praise of age is Waiting in Line by William Stafford
You the very old, i have come
to the edge of your country and looked across,
how your eyes wearily look into mine
when we pass, how you hesitate when
we approach a door. Sometimes
i understand how steep your hills
are, and your way of seeing the madness
around you, the careless waste of the calendar
the rush of people on buses. I have
studied how you carry packages,
balancing them better, giving them attention.
i have glimpsed from within the grey-eyed look
at those who push and occasionally even i
can achieve your beautiful bleak perspective
on the loud, the inattentive, shoving boors
jostling past you towards their doom.
With you from the pavement i have watched
the nation of the young, like jungle birds
that scream as they pass, or gyrate on
their frenzied bodies jittering with the disease
of youth. Knowledge can cure them. But
not all at once. It will take time.
There have been evenings when the light
has turned everything silver, and like you
i have stopped at a corner and suddenly
staggered with the grace of it all: to have
inherited all this, or even the bereavement
of it, and finally being cheated!-the chance
to stand on a corner and tell it goodbye!
every day, every evening, every
abject step or stumble has become heroic:-
You others, we the very old have a country.
A passport costs everything there is.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
Comment:A poem about hospitality and the nature of mind. Our material body a guest house for the senses. No denial of the moods and emotional struggles that beset our days. The invitation to live what is completely. Give up wishing things were different. The dark thoughts, the shame and the malice are all part of our existence. Experience the way joy becomes depression, how a momentary awareness will be followed by some new visitor. Live it all. Offer hospitality to all of it. Remember to laugh. Remember there is bliss behind all things. Cooperate with Him, cooperate with what is mysterious, with what lies beyond the material world. Rumi points beyond the self, beyond the ego, beyond duality. Be patient and clarity will come. Be fully present in this life, in this world. It is solid and real. We kick the wall and stub our toe. And there is a life beyond the appearance of things that is divine consciousness. Our inheritance is our guide.
Reflection: It takes courage to be your real self. In our everyday busy and unintentional lives, to show up wholeheartedly means to risk being rejected, or laughed at, ignored. Or you might be embraced, fully seen. By being yourself you might, in fact, be seen as an exemplar
- How are you learning to be present and to welcome what is?
- When is it easy to be present? And when it is a stretch?
- How might you be more present to each part of your life, each conversation and relationship?
- Be grateful for whoever comes because each has been sent as a guide from beyond’. How do you listen for guidance? What is calling to you now?
This weeks poem comes from a wonderful book called The Almanac For the Soul by Marv and Nancy Hills. Its beautiful, forgiving and human piece, greatly wise.
Praise what Comes By Jeanne Lohmann
surprising as unplanned kisses, all you haven’t deserved
of days and solitude, your body’s immoderate good health
that lets you work in many kinds of weather. Praise
talk with just about anyone. And quiet intervals, books
that are your food and your hunger; nightfall and walks
before sleep. Praising these for practice, perhaps
you will come at last to praise grief and the wrongs
you never intended. At the end there may be no answers
and only a few very simple questions: did I love,
finish my task in the world? Learn at least one
of the many names of God? At the intersections,
the boundaries where one life began and another
ended, the jumping-off places between fear and
possibility, at the ragged edges of pain,
did I catch the smallest glimpse of the holy?
This poem is really a meditation or a study in paradox. I use it for reflection with leaders in the moments when we touch on ideas of the burden of leadership. There is something utterly profound in the dilemma that Stafford conjures in this work, the intensely felt inner struggle that Stafford faces as he looks to find a resolution to something impossible that has presented itself to him, that demands a decision and action; it cannot be fudged or ignored.We feel the depth of the struggle he experiences, life and death in the balance, the moment of hesitation, an intense, listening wildernesss, a sense of pervasive silence filling the space around him, the humming of the car. Out of all of this, the suspense is broken the last act is taken, the finality of it is complete.
Traveling through the Dark By William Stafford
Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.
I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river
Morning Poem by Mary Oliver
When I think of the poems of Mary Oliver, two words come immediately to mind; soul and attention. If the poet has a central place and purpose in destitute times then it is surely to speak to, about and for the soul. It is surely also to help us to become more attentive, to see with fresh and living eyes the extra ordinariness of the ordinary world. Mary Oliver’s work does that and so much more.
This poem was sent to me recently and I love it. I feel warmed by it and welcomed by it. The poem houses me in a sacred way because it speaks to my own souls aliveness in an animate landscape. It allows all of me in, including that part of me that is ‘happy’ and that part which carries the thorn within it.
The image here of ‘the beast shouting at the the earth’, or elsewhere; ‘the soft animal of your body loving what it loves’, (wild geese) or the question; ‘what will you do with your one wild and precious life?’, (The summers day) all speak to a meta-theme in Mary Oliver’s work that have everything to do with place, connection, attentiveness and soul.
There is hope in the struggle of our lives, there is light in the darkness that does not deny the dark, but rather, illuminates it in a soft way, that gives it pattern and texture, place and meaning.
by Mary Oliver
Under the orange
sticks of the sun
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
And if your spirit
carries within it
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
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.