In Kent, in Connecticut, at a used book sale, thumbing through the poetry section, wondering how many books I can buy, I set one aside: Mary Oliver’s, “House of Light,” published in 1990, previous owned by someone named, Barb Humphrey (she wrote her name on the first page). On page 12, Oliver writes,
“I have been thinking
Like the lilies
That blow in the fields.”
She thought that. I read that. Maybe Barb Humphrey read that too.
An older woman, a librarian archetype, walks along the other side of the table, finds my book, picks it up, and reaches across the table to properly shelve it in the poetry section.
I say, “I put that over there. Thank you for returning it.”
She says, “That’s Mary Oliver,” as if Oliver is her book and needs her proper respect.
Oliver is dead now. Her book, passed from hand to hand, lives on. I will think of her when next I see lilies in the field.
The questions of what to wear, who to meet, where to eat, all have the same answers now: something simple, my wife, home.
And what to do together? Most often, just walk outside.
I now recognize some of the sounds we hear in the mornings: what I thought was an owl is a mourning dove, named for its call, which sounds like one in mourning (hence the name). The “gaaaa” calls come from the murder of crows. The ambient tweets come from the song birds barely seen.
And then, among these voices, are the voices of my wife and me, talking as we are walking. This is our chapel, here is our service, heaven upon us.
BY EMILY DICKINSONSome keep the Sabbath going to Church – I keep it, staying at Home – With a Bobolink for a Chorister – And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice – I, just wear my Wings – And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church, Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman – And the sermon is never long, So instead of getting to Heaven, at last – I’m going, all along.
I have been sitting with this Buddhist proverb, the way a practitioner sits with the dharma. Enough is a feast.
We are taught in my culture to want more. I remember in the heyday of MTV the Billy Idol mantra, “Too much is never enough.” That is the value system that surrounded me. That surrounds me.
My meditation practice is simply counting my breath, a focal point for my wandering mind. And in the moment, my breath – the inhale and exhale, the filling and emptying of my lungs – is all my body needs, desperately needs. My breath is enough.
A friend introduced me to the Japanese tradition of nengajō (年賀状) – sending cards to loved ones in the new year. I imagine the cards hold haikus. In Japan the practice is precise: the cards arrive on January 1.
This year I have been doing the same.
I have a stack of cards. I personalize each one. The note is specific.
Off they go into the mail, on their journeys north and south, far west and to the east, arriving unexpected, handwritten and holding a small gift, arriving in their own time.