Words of Hope: Messenger

Today is my Dad’s birthday. Do I write that it would have been his 80th or that it is his 80th birthday? I will say it is Dad’s 80th birthday. When I think of others who are 80, I tend to believe that they seem old and lived a good life. When I think about my Mom and Dad being 80, I believe there are many more years I want them to live! Strangely, this sense of time has significantly morphed as I age. I remember thinking how old the college players looked on my Dad’s basketball teams, and now the college players, for the most part, seem like young boys. Time seemed a permanent, concrete entity when I was young—it felt expansive. Now, it looks fluid, ephemeral, mysterious, shifting, complex, and beautiful. 

Last year we celebrated Dad’s birthday in Oklahoma City. We all gathered around a small table where we ate snacks and drank tea. Dad liked to “doctor” his coffee or tea to be just right. He took meticulous time to open his packets and stir in the sugar or cream carefully. He did this same methodical preparation for time together as a family. I could see him settling his body into stillness, internally slowing down his thoughts to be present, listen, and focus. I can picture him intentionally turning off his phone and putting it away. I can see him choosing a spot in the room where he could clearly see each family member’s face. He wanted to select restaurants or settings he could hear–no restaurants with loud music or TV sets. Dad was a master at building beautiful times of connection and meaning. As he called it, he took the time to “set the table.” 

I know he saw this as sacred communion time with each other and a special invitation for God to be front and center in our conversation, our attention, and our love for one another. Dad understood about time and the need to slow down, pay attention, be still, and be prepared to be astonished. I will share this poem I memorized by Mary Oliver on his birthday, which I give in his honor. He was in many ways a messenger of God’s love and grace and a reminder to slow down for meaning, beauty, and wonder. Happy Birthday, Dad! Well done on doing your work in the world.

My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—

equal seekers of sweetness.

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.

Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still half-perfect? Let me

keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work,

which is mostly standing still and learning to be

astonished.

The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here,

which is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

and these body-clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is

that we live forever.

~ “Messenger” by Mary Oliver, from Thirst

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