I was dwelling in the deepest, darkest, most despairing of places imaginable.
Mentally in complete anguish and utter sorrow, whilst physically suffering from end-stage alcoholism (at the age of 30), I saw no relief in sight from my situation. I was an empty soul. I say this with no self-pity, only with the horror of memories and compassion for others in similar plights.
While I had reached the stage of addiction where there is no pause from the endless physical yearning for poison, and my heart was empty and hollowed out, I was still able to find some tiny bit of solace in words. Always a voracious reader, I pawed through books looking for something to anesthetize me.
During the worst of these days, I stumbled upon Mary Oliver poems. Whatever spark still lay buried within my hardened core was ignited, even a morsel, by her irrepressible joie de vivre and the simplicity of her delight in life.
When I eventually found my way back to the living, her words became a sort of manual for living to me, her books pawed through again and again on sleepless nights and savoured watching the sun rise on early mornings.
It is my hope that a few of these glorious, awe-inspiring words of Oliver’s will leave you, like me, gasping for more.
“Listen, are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” ~ from Have You Ever Tried To Enter the Long Black Branches
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it is 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.” ~ from When Death Comes
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.” ~ from Sometimes
“I’ll just leave you with this.
I don’t care how many angels can
dance on the head of a pin. It’s
enough to know that for some people
they exist, and that they dance.”
~ from Angels
“Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.” ~ from It Was Early
“to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go” ~ from In Blackwater Woods
Finally, a piece of Mary Oliver’s that I have come back to again and again, that resonates with every fiber of my being, and that has become a mantra for the life I live now:
“If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.”
~ from Don’t Hesitate
Author: Keeley Milne
Editor: Travis May