Mary Oliver’s newest book of poetry ‘A Thousand Mornings’ arrived in the post this past week.
4. OF THE FATHER
He wanted a body
so he took mine.
Some wounds never vanish.
Yet little by little
I learned to love my life.
Though sometimes I had to run hard —
especially from melancholy —
not to be held back.
Oliver’s personal admission of a childhood incident in the above 4th section of the poem “HUM, HUM” whacked my heart open with its brutal honesty.
How many of us suffer from wounds inflicted during childhood? How many of us carry these wounds far into adulthood and too late learn to love our life?
How many of us, however, are fortunate enough to transform an early pain into something a little less injurious or, possibly, even character building?
Although there is no single easy answer, another Oliver poem provides a clue:
Lines Written in the days of Growing Darkness
Every year we have been
witness to it: how the
into a rich mash, in order that
it may resume.
who would cry out
to the petals on the ground
knowing as we must,
how the vivacity of what was is married
to the vitality of what will be?
I don’t say
it’s easy, but
what else will do
if the love one claims to have for the world
I take Oliver’s poem literally. What I am shovelling is poo compost.
Poo that I have just emptied out of a composting toilet that has been “resting” for three years while another bin has been filling up. Loving this world means loving the cycles of life; means knowing there is no hierarchy; means the smallest is as important as the biggest.
Jesus Christ knelt and washed the feet of his disciples as an act of humility and demonstrated how to live in this world even whilst being on a spiritual path.
In a similar way, I humbly shovel out the composted shit of myself and several hundred visitors to Windgrove into my red wheelbarrow and push it over to the garden beds. Here, it will nourish the flowers and vegetables that will eventually grace the dining room table.
The worms and slaters found within the poo are doing their job in the cycles of life.
The vivacity of what was is, without doubt, married to the vitality of what will be.
The message of hope I find in working the soil is that enlightenment doesn’t necessarily come from sitting zazen for years on end or pressing forever the beads on one’s rosary.
As any woman who has changed diapers knows, learning to love intimately, with compassion and a profound depth, comes more easily, more naturally, when accepting and then dealing with someone else’s shit.