It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
–Praying by Mary Oliver from Thirst
I sent the kids into the backyard and said “don’t come back until you can tell me three new things you’ve noticed that are different from yesterday.” They moaned and groaned despite the fact that spring is bursting forth and changing so much the assignment seemed too easy. Then they donned sweatshirts and mud caked tennis shoes and ran out the door.
My neighbors who would arrive home tired from work and consuming and busy would pull into the garage and go inside each evening. Now they walk the sidewalks safely distanced smiling and waving as they have never done before.
The most quoted and misused line of Oliver’s poetry is the line that goes “tell me what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” But we often forget that what Oliver herself chose to do was to walk around in the woods with a notebook and notice things. This planetary slow down is devastating in so many ways and to so many people but we cannot control it. What we can do is be alive in the world, notice things and pay attention. As Oliver reminds us, this way of living alive in the world and noticing not just the fantastic but the ordinary is a form of prayer.
To Find a Steady Center is a daily poem and meditation to offer a short, good word to those who are anxious, fearful or lonely and who might need a gentle word of hope, encouragement or perspective during social distancing.