I had some free time on my hands after dropping my car off to be serviced the other morning, so I headed for the park via my usual route to get in a short walk. Along the way, I glanced to my left and the other side of the street to see if a certain elderly woman who lives in the neighborhood happened to be sitting outside, as she often is, on the wooden porch at the entrance to her apartment. Weekdays, she passes the time there alone, but weekends are a different story, when loved ones line the flight of concrete steps leading down from her place to the sidewalk.
It had been a while since I’d last seen her there, and she was absent that morning as well. And then it dawned on me as to the (now obvious) reason why—the temperature. It was twenty-two degrees! Fahrenheit! But that’s just my point: It appears that her contagious smile and always friendly “Good morning!” have had such a positive effect on me that I’ve now become conditioned to look in the direction of her front door each time I stroll by—regardless of the weather.
Though we’ve waved and exchanged greetings on many occasions, we have never actually met. So, come spring, I plan to cross the street and introduce myself; ask her how she’s been.
I received a message from my daughter this past Thursday informing me that the poet Mary Oliver died. I’ve always enjoyed the Pulitzer Prize winner’s writing and recently heard her poem “The Uses of Sorrow” recited by a guest on a podcast I listen to on a regular basis. Her words spoke to me in such a way that I now have a framed copy of it placed in my office.
One might ask (and understandably so), especially while in the midst of it, what purpose this inevitable part of human life could possibly serve. I won’t speculate as to Ms. Oliver’s inspiration for composing the piece, but for me personally, it provides the opportunity to appreciate the heartaches of others through the awareness and acknowledgement of my own. And as simple as that may sound, I find it invaluable.
Some time ago, I had the opportunity to take part in a weekly, mindfulness-based sharing and discussion circle. And while it wasn’t uncommon for things to proceed slowly at first, I remember the initial several minutes of one gathering during which my fellow group members, many of them newcomers, seemed particularly hesitant to speak from their hearts. With that being the case, I went ahead and began by speaking from mine since I had been participating on a regular basis for quite a while by then and, as a result, felt fairly comfortable doing so.
I don’t recall specifically what it was that I talked about that morning, but I do recollect asking if anyone happened to be struggling with fear. And I was glad that I did because, one by one, the hands gradually began to go up, followed by those who had raised them telling their stories—mostly having to do with loss and the anxiety and grief surrounding it. By the time we were through, a few tears had been shed, and I like to think that at least a bit of healing had taken place.
Experiences such as this have led me to believe that one of the highest aspirations we can have as human beings is to ease the fears of others. In order to do so, however, I feel we must first be honest with and accepting of ourselves regarding our own trepidations, for only then will we be able to genuinely embrace the concerns of those around us.
There is what I consider to be a particularly beautiful tree in the park in which I walk—asymmetrical and full of knots. Majestic.
One morning, as I made my way up the slight incline that leads to where it stands, I could see a small bouquet of yellow flowers sitting just outside the hollow at its base. In front was a young woman crying softly into her partner’s chest.
As I walked past, I naturally began to speculate as to what it may have been that brought them there that day. Meanwhile, the one with the offering at its feet simply bore witness without the need to know.
On the shelf of my nightstand is a small, framed photograph of me as a child: a school picture, on the back of which is my name and “3rd Grade” pencilled in my mother’s handwriting. Mom, now in her late seventies, would have been twenty-six at the time, my daughter’s age in just a little over a month. In it, I sit before a light-blue background, sporting a buzz cut and with black, thick-rimmed spectacles perched on my nose and oversized ears. A half-smile can be seen on my face.
Most days, I forget that it’s even there; however, every now and then it catches my eye as I take a quick look around before turning out the light and leaving the room. And when it does, it serves as a gentle reminder to be good to myself—and the young boy on the other side of the glass.