“What do you miss the most,” I was asked recently. Sandy McCann who has been here for 6 years and who hails from The Diocese of Atlanta says she is often asked that question. Without much hesitation I said: “James.” This is not to diminish Claude’s place in my life, but Claude knows where I am and we e-mail one another every day. As smart as he is, James does not have computer skills. He can’t understand where I am or when or even if I am coming back. Claude says he sits on the sofa watching golf with him but also keeps his eyes on the door watching and waiting for me to return. That hurts my heart.

I don’t miss television or even our every day luxuries but I miss being able to reach for a book of Mary Oliver’s poems, from my shelves. She is currently my favorite poet, she along with Jane Kenyon and William Butler Yeats.

Mary Oliver draws us into humanity not through humans but through her attentive focus on nature. She writes of gannets, egrets, herons, geese (Oh, read “Wild Geese.”)

She writes: “I think of each life like a flower and each name a comfortable music in the mouth and each body a lion of courage and something precious to the earth.

The young father, Emmanuel Petro whose son died Saturday asked Sandy if the baby should be named. She encouraged him to give his son a name; after all, he was conceived, grew and developed in the womb and lived a day. He was a creation of a loving God. I asked my pastoral care class about how they felt about him being given a name. All said: NO. Choosing the right name is very important and if the baby isn’t given the right name it could result in bad spirits. I was appalled when I asked all the priests in my class how they would comfort the family and one said he would tell her that it happens all the time. And it does, but that is not what a mother or father who have just lost a child want to hear. Ways and customs are very different here.

Jessie and I sit out on our front stoop in the evening watching the neighbors’ chickens which are quite entertaining but I have to strain my eyes and imagination to see beauty as Mary Oliver so wondrously does. What would she write about the dirt and dust, the barren land, cropless and empty? Perhaps she would write of the nights’ sky filled with glittering stars or the gentle sound of the incessant wind that dies down in the early hours only to return when the sun comes up. Would she write of the ebony faces aglow with smiles and how would she capture old Obediah who comes daily begging for anything? I looked closely at his hands yesterday as we filled his dirty yellow plastic bottle with fresh water. His hands are deformed – he is deformed, but he manages what looks like a smile to me. One has to seek beauty here.

In her poem: “When Death Comes,” Mary Oliver writes: “When it is 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 is 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 simpy having visited this world.”

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