This past weekend, I was honored to speak at Seattle University for their Search for Meaning Book Fair.Â One of the highlights was to see Mary Oliver read a bunch of her poems. I have been a huge fan of Mary Oliver for quite some time. She writes of animals and nature and spirituality in a way that combines them into one entity, always with a tiny unexpected twist, her wry sense of humor nipping you at the ankles just as you’re about to take your leave. She talked of her “Percy poems,” those written about a beloved dog, no longer of this world, but very much still part of Mary’s consciousness. She spoke of flying home on Sunday in time to see the Superbowl which cracked everyone up to her apparent bewilderment. She is a wry one.
When asked her instructions for living a full life, she responded with her usual refrain: “Pay attention, be astonished and tell aboutÂ it”
Oddly enough, the homework that I gave my grief and loss class this week, the class I teach at The Recovery Cafe was to “pay attention” by taking a shape or color walk where you choose a shape or a color to look for as you walk.
I entitled my talk “How my Husband’s Death on 9/11 Improved my Life.” My mother, now living in BC, drove down to see me speak and was horrified, certain I would have a lynch-mob for an audience. But this was a spiritual book fair. I knew it would be understood, just as any widow(er) would understand. We understand that guilt we feel when the scab of grief has withered and fallen off, leaving that pink new skin underneath and we realize the richness of our new lives.
Reborn. Risen from the ashes. Alive.
A read of my preface, the part of my book that explains Alchemy as a spiritual journey of sorts, just as the grief journey is a spiritual one settled even those of my audience that were looking uncomfortable. There was more black widow humour and good questions. I sold a few books. People came up to me afterwards thanking me for my words, my honesty, authenticity, vulnerability â€“ the traits that combined toÂ constitute my audacious title.
The next day there was a fundraiser for the girls in Rwanda. A larger audience than last year. A new group of kids infused with emotion, empathy, a need to make a difference. They are the generation that will change the world. They already are. Everyone in that room was most definitely “astonished.”
My mom left with a new sense of our lives.
A new and “improved” lives of giving back and sharing our stories. Our life of “paying attention, being astonished and telling aboutÂ it.”
â€“ Mary Oliver