I attended a life changing CEO retreat in Tuscany a couple years ago, and the passing of poet Mary Oliver yesterday has me reflecting on what turned out to be an auspicious moment. This was not my first time attending an event lead by Reboot, so when I was invited to pick a koan (or short quote) that spoke to me I knew it would be something I read aloud to the group.
As I wandered around the room I glanced at this poem, passed over it for being “too sad for me” but then, as time ran out I, returned to it. Holding the paper in my hand and reading it over and over, I felt it was powerful and also like I was turning over words in another language. It spoke to me, but at first I hardly understood what it was saying:
(Excerpted from Mary Oliver’s poem Lead)
The next morning
this loon, speckled
and iridescent and with a plan
to fly home
to some hidden lake,
was dead on the shore.
I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
At her passing, I can’t help but imagine Mary Oliver herself as this beautiful bird. I am so grateful to her for bringing me this lesson, which I have both learned and am still learning.
In October, I went home to where I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and visited some of my favorite beaches. On a solo hike out onto Dungeness Spit in the rain no one was around, and the mist hung all the way down to the water so you could only see 20 feet out from shore. There were flocks of arctic diving ducks harvesting snacks from seaweed and a lone seal, probably a pretty young one, swam along following me from a distance as I walked. I was feeling a bit melancholy, lost in memories and dreams, and I recited this poem for him.