One of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, died yesterday at the age of eight-three. I’ve been reading her work since I was introduced to her talent in graduate school. I’ve been deliberate to follow the release of her new work to add to the collection of her books. I’ve been mesmerized not only by her poetry, but what she represented as an artist. She was a conscious, thoughtful, and feisty woman.
I remember listening to her on the podcast On Being with Krista Tippett. Oliver was smoking during the interview emphasizing her self-directed, stubborn, and living life on one’s own terms mentality. She was simple and complicated.
I think a lot about lighting a candle to honor those who have died and in the same breath thinking about their death as their flame being blown out. Why do we go to fire for the life force? What is it about a flickering flame that holds our gaze, while holding our consciousness hostage in the mystery of something we can get close to, can’t touch, can warm us and burn us, can light our way or burn everything down creating a blackout?
One of my favorite Broadway musicals, Rent, has a song that starts, “Gotta a light?” It’s two people in an abandoned warehouse where they’re living with no heat, not electric, and yet these two want to begin their romantic dance by playing with a candle. The cycle of the flame, going from lighting to extinguishing will be the metaphor or their relationship throughout the show. Isn’t that true for our lives? We’re in the light at some points and completely in the dark in others.
As we say goodbye to Mary Oliver, I will ask you if you’ve got a light? Do you have a recurring beacon of hope and warmth serving to provide solace during times of despair? I believe Oliver’s poems will light out way for many years. Here’s to Ms. Oliver!