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Tenderness and Longing

May 1, 2020

The last time I was in Kentucky, I tried to teach my mom, almost 92 years old, how to dictate a text. We had not given my sister in Alabama, the recipient of said texts, any heads up about what was coming. She was rightly confused and a tad concerned about what was filling up her text box. On our end of things, my mother and I were laughing so hard at what was showing up on her phone that we fell off the sofa. Literally. We were on the floor.


Oh how I miss and long for those tender moments, the ones I took for granted. I long to be with my adult kids and their families as they move through their turned-upside-down days, so different from mine at their ages when I blithely assumed that tomorrow was a little bit predictable, not much different from today. I long to casually assume that we will be together on holidays, when we will stay up late remembering their childhoods and listening to music and reflecting about life's big questions. I long long long to be with my grandchildren who are growing so fast - I was with Maddie for her first week of life and haven't seen her since except in pictures. Nolan is riding a bike. I barely let myself imagine the next time that I will be able to hug and hold them.


In 2014, Larry and I traveled to Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada. Silly us. Well, silly Larry, the Canadian who had not realized that we would be there on July 1 which is Canadian Day, the equivalent of our July 4. The crowds were smothering, but we gamely tried to take in the wonders. We rode a bus-type thing to the glaciers, a vehicle with tires that seemed as tall as a building. The driver, who came over from his home in Japan to drive the bus each summer, showed us where the edges of the glaciers had been twenty years ago. We could see where they were now. My heart seized with longing for times I had not even known, when our human foot had not stood on the neck of the rest of creation, subduing it until it could barely breathe. I felt an enveloping grief for what was to come. Anticipatory grief. The losses are coming in inches and hours. When will we see what we are losing?


A few days ago, I was hiking through South Park. I sat down in a field to rest and watch the clouds. Dandelions danced around me. I looked at one close by. Tears came to my eyes. Oh you, I said softly. So audacious in your buttery yellowness, blooming in spite of the pain and confusion overwhelming the world of humans in these pandemic times. Oh you.

From This River, When I Was a Child, I Used to Drink

But when I came back I found That the body of the river was dying.

“Did it speak?”

Yes, it sang out the old songs, but faintly.

“What will you do?

I will grieve of course, but that’s nothing.

“What, precisely, will you grieve for?”

For the river. For myself, my lost Joyfulness. For the children who will not Know what a river can be – a friend, a Companion, a hint of heaven.

“Isn’t this somewhat overplayed?”

I said: it can be a friend. Companion. A hint of heaven.

by Mary Oliver

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