Last night I attended a memorial for one of our community’s beloved elders. Nancy Sterritt was my sister’s auntie, and she died in her 97th year, having lived a profoundly beautiful, graceful life. Again and again in the tributes to Nancy last night, those who loved her talked about how she would respond to situations wide-eyed and laughing, saying “Imagine!”
And this morning I woke to the news that Mary Oliver has died at 83, having also lived a profoundly beautiful, graceful life. For many years, her poem “When Death Comes” has reminded me, galvanized me, to live with curiosity and a sense of possibility and connection. As I read it again this morning knowing death has come for Mary Oliver, every line reminds me of Nancy Sterritt.
I will miss them both, these elder sisters who taught me so much about how to live.
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps his purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering;
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth
tending as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was a 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.
~ Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems (Vol. 1)