Last weekend was the beginning of summer as far as I am concerned. We have a good month until it is official and by the looks of the forecast for this coming Memorial Day weekend, summer will visit once again to say “hello.” As it pours overhead today, chilly and wet, my shirt still dimpled with rain from my last outing, and a gentle river flowing down my basement wall into the floor drain (ugh), thoughts of last weekend make me swoon a bit. The image of last Friday clear in my mind: a sweet beverage in my hand, the gentle clacking of ice each time I take a sip, my feet resting on a cushion in our BBQ porch, my head facing the sunset through new leafed trees, the ceiling fan that my husband installed in our screened in porch (vacation room on this day) creating a soothing current that is on for effect more than necessity. And the next day, last Saturday, with its puffy white lamb clouds and azure backdrop. The day warmed quickly and by mid-day I had changed four times. Unlike my four-year old who had topped my wardrobe changes by then, but for different reasons.
My day started with a quiet and small graveside memorial in the oldest cemetery in town. Under towering oaks, in the vicinity of fragrant lilac and a stones throw from campus, I said good-bye to a Wisdom Keeper. Over the past decade he and his wife had helped plant the very trees and blooming bush’s which will shade this spot for many centuries to come. Earlier in May I had been asked to share a few words about this remarkable man. This was an honor I hope to have again, the opportunity to thank someone who brought light into the world and my own. My reflections included a poem by one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, “When Death Comes.” The title is misleading and subsequently a deterrent to reading in sunnier times or even at the appropriate time. I prefer to call it Bride to Amazement as it speaks more to living, living well, and paying attention to living this life with intention and wonder.
When Death ComesWhen death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purseto buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened
or full of argument.I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.~ Mary Oliver ~(New and Selected Poems, Volume I)
We stood together in a horseshoe shape as his urn was placed in the ground. A small airplane circled overhead, almost playfully, making its signature prop engine sound about the same time each person in the group began to speak. We laughed quietly and smiled at each other and continued until an infant ground-hog surfaced from beside the headstone and slowly made its way out and around to the clearing in front of where we were standing. No mother in sight and no sign of distress, just a baby creature going about its business, co-existing in the moment with a human ritual whose significance was of no concern. My friend, now interred, would have loved this moment and would have likely followed the fuzzy creature to safety. From here, his children talked lovingly about his enthusiasm for entomology and butterflies, of hours spent sharing images under a microscope and of sharing his infectious enthusiasm for the natural world. They remembered his patience and unconditional love for them, always. I remembered in the moment how he taught me the difference between a dragon-fly and a damsel-fly. I recommended looking it up.
I arrived home to cheerful girls bouncing in the delight of sunshine, play toys scattered about the yard, a dirty dog spattered with fallen apple blossoms and a husband setting up his seasonal art studio in the outdoor porch. How strange to have a heavy heart one moment and one that defies gravity the next. Within the hour I was off to a wedding. A young and beautiful co-worker married her longtime love. In addition to their celebration of love and commitment on a sunny day in May, they remembered and included the memory of parents, one on each side, who had died before they had a chance to see their children marry. Death affirming life, life affirming love. As the cantor’s voice filled the cathedral space we were all brides and bridegrooms, married to amazement.