Today I am feeling a bit quiet inside. The sky outside is gray and I’ve forfeited my day care spot this am in favor of walking my daughter to carpool and time at my desk. I am looking online for something to make me feel connected to the world, and sure enough, I find Mary Oliver there waiting, in the form of a poem about death and dying which feels new, as so often her poems are about bears or bees or the love of her life who is dead and gone. This time the poem is about a neighbor and the neighbor’s family circling round during the neighbor’s last days. It reminds me first of the story my widowed friend has shared about his wife’s dying. This in turn reminds me of the time of my dad’s illness and death, when we were circled round, and now as I write, it reminds me of another friend’s bout with cancer and his wish for circling round. It also reminded me of another friend’s mother, who has just received a dire diagnosis, and my sister, who is part of the circling.

This is life, all this circling. Parker Palmer uses the term “third thing” to describe how a poem or song or piece of art can act as that connection point between our lives and the lives of others, between our inner experience and that of the outside world, between unknowing and knowing. I can’t describe it exactly. I might need a poem. Enjoy today’s from Writers’ Almanac. I haven’t shared one for awhile. It’s been a bit of a hard week here, struggling myself with the need to do the circling and to be circled. Enclosed, held, found, surrounded, not lost, all things we can provide in our work with children which we adults also need. Time to wake the gal with a hug and tea and toast and a walk to carpool, a way of being her small circle, then to get down to business with the day care administration, a way of encircling not as pleasurable as the baby holding and toddler and preschool caring and conversations with parents and caregivers I might have ben doing downstairs, but restorative in its own way of a sense of calm and peace in my world.  As Mary Oliver says in her poem below, the desk work is part of “everything that can be fixed,” like the renovations my own parents did to our home when my dad was sick and the phone calls and visits and meals we each provide when things go terribly wrong. The caring comes on many, many levels. The challenge for me is to see it in all its forms.


by Mary Oliver

Our neighbor, tall and blonde and vigorous, the mother
of many children, is sick. We did not know she was sick,
but she has come to the fence, walking like a woman
who is balancing a sword inside of her body, and besides
that her long hair is gone, it is short and, suddenly, gray.
I don’t recognize her. It even occurs to me that it might
be her mother. But it’s her own laughter-edged voice,
we have heard it for years over the hedges.

All summer the children, grown now and some of them
with children of their own, come to visit. They swim,
they go for long walks at the harbor, they make
dinner for twelve, for fifteen, for twenty. In the early
morning two daughters come to the garden and slowly
go through the precise and silent gestures of T’ai Chi.

They all smile. Their father smiles too, and builds
castles on the shore with the children, and drives back to
the city, and drives back to the country. A carpenter is
hired—a roof repaired, a porch rebuilt. Everything that
can be fixed.

June, July, August. Every day, we hear their laughter. I
think of the painting by van Gogh, the man in the chair.
Everything wrong, and nowhere to go. His hands over
his eyes.

“August” by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems: Volume Two. © Beacon Press, 2007. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)