On this date 167 years ago, Henry David Thoreau moved to his cabin in the woods where he lived for two years, two months and two days and then wrote Walden, his reflections on the time spent there and the world around him.
My family also built a log house in the woods, but we stayed ten years, and it has now been more than 20 years since that time. And my reflections may not be as compact as Thoreau’s.
In yoga class last week, Sydney read a Mary Oliver poem, “The Ponds” at the end of the session. Suddenly I was back at that little log house on a breezy June day trudging up and down hills in the woods toward the big creek with all three of my children as we carried buckets and shovels. I thought of the wild orange day lilies that bloomed all up and down the creek bank, so lush that it seemed like a painting, not real. We filled the buckets and transplanted the lilies in the yard that day. And each year after, those lilies bloomed just as profusely in our yard as they had at the creek, and they signaled a celebration for the end of the school year.
Oliver’s poem begins with this:
are so perfect
I can hardly believe
their lapped light crowding
In the next lines of the poem, closer observation shows that the individual flowers are bent or decayed or otherwise less than perfect. I am certain that my memory is less than perfect too. Somebody grumbled or stumbled that day, and I am sure that my children did not find the gathering of the lilies nearly as hopeful as I did. And the imperfection of that day also comes in the aftermath: My daughter is no longer with us in this life. But the lines that took me away, that made the memory joyful and hopeful were these:
Still, what I want in my life
is to be willing
to be dazzled —
to cast aside the weight of facts
and maybe even
to float a little
above this difficult world.
I want to believe I am looking
into the white fire of a great mystery.
I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing —
that the light is everything — that it is more than the sum
of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do.
At the end of the class, I shared with Sydney some of the memory that the poem evoked. (Sydney offered a class to our group of women, and that time is included in the book that we are launching on August 10.) I had told her how hard it is sometimes to share memories about my children–because the one who died is often part of that explanation. Some of her response is in this email she sent this morning:
I have been thinking about what you said about how hard it is to share this, and how it can feel awkward in conversation to bring up something so painful. I wanted to tell you that I remember the first time, back at Arts of Yoga, that you told me about Elizabeth and her death at such a young age. It was painful for me in a number of ways. One way was realizing the loss you had gone through and continue to go through and the other was not being able to run from the realization that there are no guarantees and that if you had lost a child then I could lose mine. The result of your sharing this gave me the gift of feeling all of this discomfort and then to begin to breathe into it, and actually begin to live bigger and into reality, remembering how precious life is, and how fragile and how immediate– “to see things as they are” as the yogis say. I feel I have a relationship to Elizabeth through this teaching. She, through you, helps me live more, and to live into the complex emotions of motherhood better.And then, meeting the women in your writing group and getting to know Monica and Carol, and reading Carol’s book (Losing Malcolm: A Mother’s Journey through Grief), all has meant so much to me. There have been times when I wished I had said something different to you all, or wished I had thought to teach the class I taught differently, but somehow I was able to let go of my insecurities, I think because the love you all emanate and the deep work you all are doing puts things into perspective for me and I can let go of myself a little more.In other words, when you speak of your loss and of Elizabeth, I hope you will do it freely and just let people be uncomfortable if they are. It is just one way to help them shake off their illusions. Don’t worry about it.The other day, after the Mary Oliver poem, it was so beautiful to see the joy in your face as you were remembering transplanting the lilies with your children. I guessed that Elizabeth was there that day. Was I right? My hope is that you could feel free speaking about Elizabeth any and all the time. Keep bringing her to us! Knowing both you and Elizabeth means the world to me!Thank you, Sydney, and thank you all the fellow travelers who offer comfort and hope in this journey.~Kay Windsor