Tuesday, August 19, Day after University Convocation
“Convocation,” a calling together of women and men who work at the university. A rich variety of people from around the state, around the country, and around the wide world. This is a University. So in between the formal convocation spaces, lots of story telling goes on. With some intimate friends we have kept up all summer no matter where our travels took us, but some people tell us important news now, as the academic year settles in: some serious sicknesses, some moments of astonishing beauty, a contemplative vacation time, someone close who has died. So many stories in the tightly compressed first days of a new season of work. And lots of stories, too, filled with the beauty and daring of our work lives.
C David Campbell, Executive Director of The McGregor Fund, died early this July; a much loved man, himself in love with his family and his city. The program for his funeral led me back to the poet Mary Oliver’s “When Death Comes.” As Oliver does, the poem opens a door into the ordinary that invites the reader to expect depths of grief and wonder.
This poem is meant for all the readers of this list, but especially for those of us who have tasted death at close range this summer and carry fresh grief now.
“When Death Comes”
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 the 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 the 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 New and Selected Poems, Vol.1