Poetry as Meditation

Joy is not made to be a crumb

A couple of years ago, I heard Mary Oliver’s poem, “Don’t Hesitate”, for the first time that I can recall. I might have heard it before, but this time, it just really stuck out, because I was feeling the weight of the world — the challenges of being a mom, having moved across the country a few years ago, the ever-present water hose of cruelty and negativity and systemic conditions that made it just feel like…the world was crap. And here was this poet telling me that, yeah, it actually is and we’re not wise, but, we should celebrate happiness anyway. And not just a little, like a crumb. But, really, truly, experience joy and give ourselves over to joy.

Nearly immediately, I ordered Oliver’s collected works in her book, Devotions, which has since remained a staple on my bedside as a quick read before bed; and it’s been a constant companion on camping trips and other opportunities where I know I’ll spend time reflecting or meditating. “Don’t Hesitate” is still a favorite and one I turn to when I hear the roar of a world saying that things don’t matter or that some people shouldn’t experience joy. It’s what I hear when my family spontaneously breaks out in a dance party at the announcement that the 2020 Presidential Election has been called by media outlets for Joe Biden.

Don’t Hesitate

If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.

Mary Oliver

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