To Live in This World

for Gabe at the start of his season


When he was about 7, Gabe said to me, in his odd, precise way, “Well, you aren’t often wrong.” He wouldn’t say that now. Just shy of 9, he’s seen many things go wrong. Yet there is a growing sense that some important things are being set right. Being made new, made whole. Leaves are falling, but there is also a harvest coming.


When I was making the daycare decision for my boys many years ago, I read something very helpful: that it is important for children to learn that they can be loved and cared for by adults other than their parents. That other arms can hold them when they need help. I think of this wisdom often, and with different variations.

It must also be important, for example, for a child to see that their parent can fall down and get back up; that mistakes and struggle do not, in the end, diminish who you are. That there is value in simply carrying on, even though as a parent, you want to do so much more than to simply carry on.

This is not to discount, on any level, the woundedness children suffer from their parents’ mistakes. But that is a very different arena of concern. One’s woundedness is one’s own, and must be allowed space to heal as it will. Someone in recovery once said to me, “Gabe has his own path to God,” and I was reminded again that other arms are holding each of my sons, both when I can and when I can’t.

GabeGPP2Halloween kicks off Gabe’s time of the year. He lives for the home and garden decor that Halloween brings, to say nothing of the weeks of consideration that go into his costume.

Then comes his birthday in late November, this child of the harvest, of thanksgiving; and his name is throughout all of the Christmas story–the angel who brings good tidings of great joy.

Gabriel’s time of the year has always been one of paradoxes–all hallow’s eve which marks the living and the dead; Thanksgiving and the harvest that is gathered in while the fields lie fallow; the Christmas story which starts in confusion, is carried forward by faith, and ends in joy and blessing. Paradoxes, or perhaps simply different parts of the same cycle.

Mary Oliver’s poem–perfect, perfect, perfect for this moment in time–reminds us that to be alive, to be mortal is to live the paradox. There is always loss, always salvation, and nothing to fear.

In Blackwater Woods
Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.


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