Let My Epitaph Read…


Ya know, sometimes what I want to share is what SOMEONE ELSE has written! That is the case here. Not only do I want to share Mary Oliver’s poem “When Death Comes,” but I want to share Sue Monk Kidd’s commentary on it, and an Emily Dickinson quote within the commentary! The only thing I personally have to add, and this will make sense at the end, is: “Me, too!”

Here is an excerpt of Mary Oliver’s poem (please read the whole thing sometime):

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
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.

And here is s Sue Monk Kidd essay from her book Firstlight, reacting to Oliver’s poem:

“Recently on the eve of my birthday a woman said to me with a completely serious face, ‘When I turn fifty, I want to become notorious.’

‘Notorious for what?’ I asked.

This seemed to throw her. ‘Well, I’m not sure,’ she said. “I haven’t gotten that far along with the idea.’

Becoming notorious for the sake of becoming notorious was a peculiar idea to me. Besides that, had she consulted a dictionary for the meaning of notorious? I went home and looked it up. It said, ‘Notorious – widely but infamously known or talked about.’

I couldn’t see the appeal. But after my conversation with the woman, practically against my will, I began to entertain a thought: What would I want to be notorious for at fifty?

I was still secretly working on it when a group of women gathered to help me celebrate my birthday. For our evening’s entertainment I brought out my book of Mary Oliver’s poems and suggested we take turns reading. As bemused glances were exchanged, it occurred to me if I did ever become notorious, it would not be for bacchanalian parties.

I read last, choosing a poem with the cheery title ‘When Death Comes.’ I read along unsuspecting till I got to a line in which Oliver writes about coming to the end and wanting to say that she has spent her life married to amazement.

Suddenly something unexpected happened to me. My throat tightened. My eyes filled. I don’t mean sad tears, but the kind that leak from something brimming.

I looked at the faces around the room. They seemed beautiful and shining to me. I glanced at a common white lily in a vase and honestly, the sight nearly wiped me out. It was that impertinently gorgeous. Out of nowhere, plain and simple objects were rising up to show off their flame. The divine, unnameable spark. I couldn’t think what to name the feeling except amazement at life. It was as if something fell from my eyes and I saw everything just as it is.

One second I was going along in a jaded marriage with life (because let’s face it, the intimacy can fade after a while if you don’t work on the relationship) when it rode in and swept me off my feet. I learned to be in love with life again. And I didn’t even know the romance had slipped.

‘Life is a spell so exquisite that everything conspires to break it,’ wrote Emily Dickinson. Somehow I’d begun moving through life on automatic pilot, half-seeing, half-here, abducted by the dreaded small stuff. But the evening of my party, I realized all over again: we will have a true and blissful marriage to life only to the extent we are aware.

So. That’s how I resolved the question about what I wished to become notorious for at fifty. Let it be for nothing more than harboring a wild amazement at life. Let it be for choking up at poetry and the sight of human faces. For falling into easy rapture over lilies and all the other run-of-the-mill marvels that make up life. Let me become notorious for going around with my bridal veil tossed back and my mouth saying I do. Renewing my vows with life. Every day. A hundred times a day.”

Me, too, Mary and Sue and Emily!  Me, too! Me, too! Can I get an Amen?

Woman’s Work

Women Hold the World

A couple of weeks ago, my writing group worked with this ancient proverb as a jumpstarter:

When sleeping women wake, mountains move.

The pieces written that day by my fellow female writers were so beautiful. We felt ourselves as community – our vulnerabilities and strengths, our challenges with identity, value, and process in a patriarchal paradigm, our natural inclinations toward connection and cooperation, but also our secret insecurities, jealousies, anger, and competitiveness…the whole kit and caboodle of being a waking woman. We are indeed women waking! And I do believe mountains are on the move.

One of the things I felt that day and have been letting percolate ever since, is a new respect for the feminine power of understatement in this bombast-oriented world. Mountains can move one inch at a time, and there is something about that notion that needs more appreciation. We are a world of bombs and f-bombs, and those certainly grab our attention, but we are also a world of helping hands behind the scenes, humble hands, so many of which are female. One of our writers reminded us of another famous quote by Mao Zedong:

Women hold up half the sky.

I struggle, as does every woman I know, with making my mark on the world. Our societal norms demand extraordinariness from us to even justify our existence. Being called ordinary is an insult. So our average, daily lives, in which we have to make a living, make food, do laundry, pay bills, attend to family needs, etc., are subconsciously evaluated, at the end of the day, as being less than our potential. But most of those women holding up the sky would not qualify as extraordinary. And yet they are holding up the sky!

So I am writing this piece in praise of old-fashioned woman’s work. Not to diminish in any way our modern woman’s rights and liberties, for which I am deeply grateful, I also bow to the moms, the volunteers, the helpers. They are moving mountains an inch at a time, (which, if you think about it, is much less disruptive than the earthquake variety of movement), even though it won’t make the news or the best-seller list.

Women are waking, mountains are moving, and the sky is being held, in a quiet, understated, even ordinary way. That is worth noting and celebrating.