A voice from my past came back to bless me the other day, through an email from a friend. My friend was speaking to someone I had helped decades ago, and whose memory of kindness shown then, and non-rejection when life was messed up, remains blessing to her, and is now encouragement to me. That email touched into something that is a given in pastoral care - the invisibility in the present of later consequence. And for me mixed memories, of hard decisions, sometimes unrewarded effort, becoming the target of anger and frustration that has to earth somewhere, and the sense that an undercurrent of grace carries us along sometimes despite our best efforts to row in the other direction.
Mary Oliver's poem below expresses with psychological precision and pastoral prescience what that undercurrent of grace can sometimes feel like - the categorical imperative of caring.
Okay, the broken gull let me lift it
from the sand.
Let me fumble it into a box, with the
Okay, I put the box into my car, and started
up the highway
to the place where sometimes, sometimes not,
such things can be mended.
The gull at first was quiet.
How everything turns out one way or another, I
won't call it good or bad, just
one way or another.
Then the gull lurched from the box and onto
the back of the front seat and
Okay, a little blood slid down.
But we all know, son't we, how sometimes
things have to feel anger, so as not
to be defeated?
I love this world, even in its hard places.
A bird too must love this world,
even in its hard places.
So, even if the effort may come to nothing,
you have to do something.
From Swan. Poems and Prose Poems, Beacon Press, 2010.
The poet achieves accuracy in describing the ambiguity that surrounds those responses we like to think spontaneous, but are often either premeditated or arise out of habits of the heart. Three times she uses "Okay", and it can mean concession or defiance to those who might wonder why she bothered. Her understanding of the language of anger, and why anger may be all a person has to prevent being overwhelmed by circumstance, is one of those profoundly humane insights that makes Mary Oliver essential reading for those whose calling is the care of others. To love the world in its hard places requires commitment to act, without foreseeing consequences beyond that present immediate imperative, "to do something".
The photo comes from here - where you can find a vision of an alternative lifestyle in an altogether different climate from Scotland in November.