There are three feet of snow on the ground in Boston, and another storm is bearing down on us. Ten to twenty more inches are predicted over the next two days. The streets are already impossibly narrowed by towering piles on either side of the road. The traffic is terrible and driving is scary. The kids like it. For the last two weeks, school has been cancelled for two days each week, and it’s probably going to be cancelled again tomorrow.
Though I try and love this very white silent world, I confess that I do feel confined and stressed by the extreme weather. It’s so icy and cold outside. Treacherous. Luckily I have been able to either Skype or talk on the phone with most of my patients, when it was not safe for them to travel to my office. I have two dogs who I typically love to walk with every day, but for the most part I have just let them out in the backyard. I don’t want to fall. All of us are cooped up.
This morning I needed to make a deliberate and conscious effort to maintain good spirits. I turned up the thermostat in the kitchen and began to cook and bake. I made a Thai beef coconut curry and an AIP Apple Blackberry Pie. As I measured, chopped and stirred, I listened to my favorite radio program, On Being, with Krista Tippett, interviewing my favorite poet, Mary Oliver. It was a moving and profound interview about many important things, including how one woman transcended the anguish of her life through her relationship with nature and her creativity. The unedited audio file is included at the bottom of this post.
Mary Oliver is 79 years old now and the interview features her during this late developmental phase, with the wisdom gained through all of her years of living. She, like so many patients I have known, found deep solace in the beauty and wonder of the natural world, and it served as an antidote to the loneliness, abuse and trauma experienced in her childhood home. Nature functioned as the comforting and reliable mother she never had, and her relationship with Mother Nature held and nurtured her. It allowed her to transcend the grim realities of family life, and to experience what can be a life saver for many people, a sense of belonging.
Mary Oliver’s creativity also sustained her. She walked daily outside in the woods, always with notebook in hand, and her careful observations of the natural world, and her awareness of its sacredness, is reflected in her poetry. She spoke about the value of discipline in her writing life. She said that it was necessary to set aside time to write daily, because dedicated space needs to be preserved and created, in order to allow inspiration to come to you.
Here is one of her most famous and beloved poems.
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.