I am just back from celebrating my dad’s 90th birthday, as well as marking the death of my uncle at age 91. Needless to say, my heart is full of family and life’s bounty and fragility. I find my thoughts circling around the lines from a wonderful poem by Mary Oliver entitled “When Death Comes:”
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.
In the sparing moments when any of us allow ourselves to think about death, I suspect the vast majority of us want to imagine that we have made something particular and real of our lives. Our thoughts of legacy generally center around family and/or a business or career. These are concrete things that our evidence of our commitment and love and care. Importantly, they address what we did with our days.
And yet, Mary Oliver’s words remind us that what we do is important, but so is how we do it. “When it’s over,” she writes, I want to say I “was married to amazement” and I took “the world into my arms.”
In essence, Oliver is inviting us into curiosity. To get beyond the well-worn path of expectation and duty. To let ourselves wonder and wander.
That is hard and scary work. For most of our lives, our accomplishments have been linked to how well we can show what we know. This asks us to not rest there, choosing instead to return to the inquisitive wonder of our earliest years.
Embracing curiosity is likely always a worthy activity, but in a month like May where so many milestones are celebrated (e.g., graduations and weddings) it may be essential guidance to helping us live into new realities.