Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details

Setting down the burdens


photo-12As I traveled in Europe this spring, and in my childhood home of Germany, I had all sorts of plans for what I designated as writing time.

And Life, smiling, laid waste to them with its wise, gentle love. It led straight to pieces of a book’s story I would never find on my own. And each time, as if a soft chorus echoed it, I’d feel the inner words: “Because now is the time. Because now, you are ready.”

I also heard my mother’s voice, which used to warn with a dire tone, “You can’t go home again.” Today, I can well understand her motivation, as a military spouse. Certain kinds of setting yourself up to believe and hope are a ticket to pain no mother wants to see for her child. Other wise words had reminded me, when I’d tend to set my my inner child’s nostalgic hopes on a place I’d loved so well: “Don’t mistake geography for your Reality.”

In these last nine weeks, a recognition finally came. You can’t return to the way things were. Yet you can come home to what you love about anything, right in your own heart. And the gateway, at least in this case, is grief, that wonderful, terrible angel of release, dogging us to face our burdens, to set them down at last. When we are ready, of course. photo-7

I had known that the remaining portions of the novel I aim to finish would lead directly through that no man’s land that I have been trained to avoid. It brings the most confounding mixture of joy and wonderment with it.

Who else but Mary Oliver could provide the words that sum up such ineffables? And there her poem appeared before me, the day my journey came to its end:


That time
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
without dying

I went closer,
and I did not die.
Surely God
had His hand in this,

as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poets said,

was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it—
books, bricks, grief—
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?

Have you heard
the laughter
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?

How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe

also troubled—
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
a love
to which there is no reply?

“Heavy” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst: Poems. © Beacon Press, 2007.

3 thoughts on “Setting down the burdens

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey, Phyllis. This is wonderful, true, on point and as always, straight to the heart.

  2. Your words of wisdom and insight greatly appreciated.

  3. Diane and Jane, your company is greatly appreciated.

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