“…believe us, they say,
it is a serious thing
just to be alive
on this fresh morning
in the broken world.”
From “Invitation” by Mary Oliver
It’s a fresh morning. And I’m paused by your words, Ms. Oliver.
It’s not the goldfinches who urge me to stop on this frigid March day. Nor the whitecaps, compelling though they might be as they press their way towards the shore.
It is this business of seriousness. And, of course, the breaking apart, everywhere.
By serious, I know you do not mean grave. No one could wake with your words in their ears and mistake your intent for anything but a call to delight. The word is everywhere, echoing through your pages. Even here, in your “Invitation,” delight whispers throughout. You speak it expressly just one line before the finches make their plea—“but for sheer delight and gratitude”—but it is everywhere else as well: “the most expressive of mirth,” “this rather ridiculous performance.” No, gravity is not your calling.
Serious because it is not to be held lightly, this being alive. And I feel it, as my legs carry me between the pines and the cold wind beats at my lungs and the gulls scream as they swoop and feed. Serious. Not precious, not to be cradled, coddled or protected. To be used well and thoroughly, with consideration for its full weight.
Then there is the brokenness. The weight of being alive increases in direct proportion with our ability to see all that is breaking apart. Oh yes, I feel that too, as I scramble carefully over icy rocks onto the little beach. Periwinkle shells lie thick and tumbled, empty, the little bodies of aliveness long gone. The day is cold beyond description, but I know the water in front of me is warming at an alarming pace.
I know the community behind me is filled with suffering and need. I know that in houses tucked away in hidden places on this island, mothers ache as they deny their children a snack because the groceries must last longer than that. They bundle their babies in extra layers and turn down the heat, whilst large mansions lie empty and warm, just miles away, all winter long.
I know that in ways both glaring and subtle, so many are dismissed, have been dismissed and much worse, for centuries.
I know I cannot begin to comprehend, much less hold, the fullness of the ache.
I know, too, that there is the welcome breaking, the busting apart of that which holds the current structure in place so that something better might be birthed between the shattered, discarded pieces.
I bend, cup my hands, and scoop up the empty periwinkle shells. We are breaking through more than the bonds that do a deep disservice. We are tearing apart the fibers, the very fabric, of life. The song of those goldfinches vibrates in each of us, but we are too eager to forget that fact.
Would that I could scoop up the pieces of all that we are breaking but to which we are beholden before it is too late.