Gratitude for Our Ordinary Days
For the first time since June, my farmer’s market CSA did not have a full-to-bursting paper cone filled with wildflowers awaiting me – snapdragons, sweet peas, zinnias, statice, sunflowers. For a beautiful season, I have been able to watch the color roll call of the summer garden – tender pinks and whispers of lemon, giving way to deeper roses, salmons, blues, and on to the intense flame of the sedums, asters and dahlias.
Then last Wednesday, I was told by the girl behind a folding table, dwarfed by five kinds of peppers, that the flowers were “over.” Like a child called indoors while the light is still in the sky, I felt betrayed. Something loved and lovely had been snatched away before I’d drawn sufficient breath in its presence to fully absorb its grace and goodness and pleasure.
I felt as if I had lost something precious before I’d fully possessed it.
I have recently discovered a poet whose writings – and story – about presence and loss teach me invaluable lessons about remaining mindful of what is most precious in our lives.
Claudia Emerson won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for her book, Late Wife. It is an elegiac, redemptive series of poems about losing a marriage that was “over” and, in time, falling in love and marrying again, this time a widower who had lost his beloved first wife to cancer.
Emerson remarried in 2000. Fourteen years later, at the age of 57, she herself died of cancer. In the intervening years of happiness, diagnosis and grueling treatments , she continued to write poems. Towards the end of her life she composed those that would comprise her very beautiful posthumous book, impossible bottle.
One of these has haunted me. In it, Emerson describes a chemotherapy clinic and its by-then familiar clientele on a day she goes in for treatment:
What we do not know about
each other can go unspoken; our old ordinary
means nothing here, and we know already
the ordinary that this is-and is-.
“Our old ordinary means nothing here…”
The few times I have passed through a hospital, nursing home, or a testing center, I too have experienced the dissociative and disempowering effects of radical vulnerability and the effacing of personal story. I have been lucky: unlike Emerson’s, my visits have been routine. But even with the great kindness of good doctors and very able nurses, I understand the fragmented consciousness that her lines convey.
Haven’t we all had the relief of stepping back into the “real” world, strolling past a coffee shop and taking in the sounds of cars and the smell of buses with downright gratitude?
Emerson offers me a different sort of gift than do my paper cones full of flowers. They lead me to take a morning to hold my own “ordinary” up to the light like the bouquet it truly is – the morning toast and paper with my husband, the workspace that I take for granted with its helter-skelter of books, paper, and illustrations, the conversation with a long-distance friend, the texts from my son, and the simple dinner by candlelight when day is done — these are the blooms of a very ordinary garden, and yet they are infinitely precious to me. When I remember to give thanks for them all, in all of their mundane abundance.