A common theme in Mary Oliver's poetry is 'look, pay attention'. I think I have already mentioned in a past blog post that since I have only recently arrived at Mary Oliver's table, so to speak, to finally partake of the bounty of her poetry, I must continue to remind myself that I have time to savor each poem and do not need to gobble or 'inhale' this nourishing 'food for the soul'. In fact, if I never get to reading all of her poems, no matter, I know that each poem I do read is sustaining all in itself.
Which leads me back to to 'look, pay attention', by which I believe she is telling us to notice and appreciate what is in our life, right now, this very minute. It might be something always there, but newly noticed, or something or someone completely new that we may never see again.
Case in point. I met a woman seated next to me while flying to Seattle. I will remember her forever. Her name is Nancy, and she and her husband were also flying to Seattle to visit their grand-daughter's classroom for Grandparents' Day. We got to chatting, and I quickly realized Nancy was asking me the BEST questions about our farm, what we do, why we do it, what is means, etc. etc. Those sound like common questions, except they weren't. Each question was asked in a way that showed she was actually paying attention, listening to what I was saying and thinking maybe a million thoughts to find a follow-up question that always made me find just the right response by sorting among the million thoughts in my brain, too.
I cannot actually remember many of her thoughtful questions, but I remember one of them. It surprised me, it gave me great pause, made me think, made me think deeply, made me think 'why not?', and then gave me a great smile. Nancy asked if I sang to our ~20,000 garlic plants while out in the fields.
I finally turned to her and said something like, "No. Why not? because I am listening, listening for and listening to the songs of the universe, the songs of our farm, the songs in my heart". I can sing, but instead, I hope my hands are transferring the songs of gratitude, love, and happiness I am hearing and feeling to our garlic while they are being planted, mulched, 'fluffing' their mulch, weeded, harvested, hung up to dry, or cleaned to sell, so when they are lovingly passed on to our customers, those people also feel and hear some of those songs of happiness and peace from our place in the universe.
Which leads me to this morning, stepping out onto our front porch to say hi to a friend who had driven up, and immediately feeling my heart just burst with the joy of hearing the first Eastern towhee of the year singing its song "Drink your tea!" just as clear as a bell, just a few yards away in the brushy field adjacent to our driveway, right on time, not fooled by the strange warm then cold weather Michigan has had during the past 6 weeks. I had been listening, listening, listening for the past several weeks, wondering if it would come early like so many other birds and plants have done. No, last year it came on April 18, during the night it snowed in Michigan! I posted photos of it on my blog, where winter just would not quit (so different this year, as winter, as we think of it, never really came).
Here is where you can see a beautiful photo of an Eastern towhee and also scroll down to listen to its heart-captivating song.
So Nancy, even though we may never meet again, I enjoy adding you to my ever enlarging group of new friends, the people I have met over the past 15 years since publishing my book, people for whom (in some way, shape, or form) cancer has brought into my life, people I wish lived just down the street, next door, or behind me. A cancer diagnosis (or a heart attack, an auto accident, any 'near miss') is that special opportunity to 'look, pay attention', notice what makes you happy and notice how you can share that happiness, beauty, and kindness.
I will think of you, Nancy, each and every time I pay attention and listen to our farm's towhees singing, instead of singing my own song. I will miss them when they finish singing sometime in July or early August, at which point I will find something else to look for, pay attention to, listen for another song, a song that brings me happiness and connects me with the many mysteries of our life, our 'one wild and precious life' (The Summer Day, Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems, 1992).
And to those of you who have worked in the fields with me, please know and understand how much I love being with you, sharing my work with you, how much I love talking with and listening to you, but how very difficult it is for me to turn off or set aside this singing I hear, these sounds I may not know. (Sara, I still have not identified that call we heard two summers ago! Bird? frog? or??). If I dropped the ball and said something too casual because I was not totally focused on what you said, I have been deeply grateful for being given a second chance to redeem myself, to 'look, pay attention', and listen more deeply to what you are hearing or thinking about. We each hear the universe differently, and I truly love seeing it, hearing it, and learning through your eyes, ears, and heart, too. Thank you for sharing so much with me. :)
Cultivate your life - you are what you grow - inch by inch, row by row,
Diana Dyer, MS, RD