by tobias crabtree
i lean towards dramatic. i find it pretty easy to believe that, quite possibly, my heart is aching worse than anyone in the history of life. sometimes i think the dark cloud over my head is the darkest of them all, with it’s deadly lightnings and it’s howling winds. oh my, i can imagine myself being the loneliest man. let’s face it, depression is a jealous mistress and she doesn’t allow for distraction. it’s easy to drop into the maelstrom and hear the groanings of the world, the splitting firmament, the crumbling foundation. dramatic.
but then today happens. all of a sudden, without any discussion, a new day forms and my angle of thought has changed. the light of the sun is just right. the canyon wren sings her perfect descending song. the orb weaver sits in the center of her stranded masterpiece. a cricket warms up his chirping wings in plain view under the porch swing. the pretty tattooed lady at the bakery in san francisco tells me the chocolate croissant is “on the house”…and her smile is real. all these things and i notice that life is breathable again. of course, there is no averting sadnesses; they belong here in my heart along with the grand and the average.
i’m not completely under the thumb of my emotions. i’ll admit i’ve given in to the onslaught brought on by new love, when fiery passion storms the castle gates and breaks down the best laid defenses. all the personal promises out the window. heart raging. curling smiles. day long bedroom events. eventually the fire drops down from these events and we can see through the flame…very similar to coming up from the depths of depression and swimming for the light of the surface, lungs burning, holding on for a gulp of sweet ok-ness. dramatic.
but see, i admit it. i know i go in all the way. i see my penchant for burning and drowning. and so i’m learning; i mean, i am learning, right? don’t we all struggle like this? maybe some are born just a little further along the path of understanding but, even so, we all struggle. few people have ever shown me a more transparent soul than Mary Oliver. there is a way in which i think of people like her. i’ll explain.
i have spent years, most of my life, living and sleeping outside. when i was a kid i went with a number of different burly dudes on week long trips down into canyons and across big expanses for various reasons, sometimes fishing, sometimes exploring and looking for bones and artifacts. drinking from the high mountain creeks and hunkering down for the night in some enormous aspen stand was a huge portion of the road that formed me. on those bitter cold mornings when the water in the canvas bags was frozen solid i would lay in my sleeping bag and watch with wonder as a thick-necked, bearded man built the fire in his shirtsleeves. i learned, in time, that someone must build the fire, i mean, it don’t get built on it’s own. i realized the importance of being the one who is willing to roll out in the cold, crack the sticks, scratch the match, and put on the coffee (oh my god, yes, the coffee). i live my life roaming around with a cusp group of people who are willing to start the fire. i know they will because they do, and so do i. it’s important.
when i was in my infancy and learning the way (i’m still learning), Mary Oliver, was out there in the middle of bitter cold heartbreak…and she was starting the fire. and as i’ve lived and walked through life’s mountains and fallen down in life’s deep, shoe-stealing marshes of depression, the Mary Olivers of this world were building fires so that i might see them in the dark. so that i might find my way. so that we all can come in from the cold and be together by the flame.
here is a poem by Mary Oliver:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
by Mary Oliver