I woke up early this morning to a message from a friend informing me that Mary Oliver had died.
Three days ago, my husband sent me the following image from a beach in Vietnam:
He was quoting my favorite Mary Oliver poem, entitled “I Go Down to the Shore.” It’s a brief, simple poem that has given me ineffable solace in difficult times. It is one of the only poems I know by heart.
I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.
I first became aware of Mary Oliver several years ago when I listened to her interview with Krista Tippett for On Being, recorded in October 2015. She read this poem in that interview. I was immediately captivated by her. I felt a closeness to her. She reminded me of my grandmother, who recently passed away. Granny was also a poet, extremely intellectual, a nature lover, sharp and humorous. They were both so damn practical.
When my husband sent me that image, I printed a photo of Mary to go in the front of my journal. I was inspired by Austin Kleon, who selects a Guardian Spirit to watch over each of his notebooks and who also wrote a lovely post in honor of Mary today. It seems fitting that she remain my guardian at a time when I am grieving and letting go of so many things: the loss of my grandparents, proximity to my family and friends back home, the safe, familiar layers of self I’ve shed to make room for the flourishing and the new.
Mary wrote often about wild love. She expressed such love for the beauty of the world and its inhabitants; she had a deep compassion for herself and for others. May her wild, loving spirit reside in the corners of the life I’ve constructed and in the work I have to do. May her words resonate in my heart this coming year and beyond.
Dear Mary, you were loved, you are loved. Thank you for your gifts and for rescuing me from despair. In your honor, I will go to the woods, I will walk and scribble, I will listen to the world.