This holiday season, we are bidding farewell to 2020, and welcoming 2021 with a series we are calling The Conversation, a collection of brief, but meaningful insights and reflections, curated and shared by members of the Domain7 team, centering on themes that help us reflect on a tumultuous year and move forward into the future. We are exploring change, resilience, community, transformation, and grounded hope.
Today’s host is Ceri Rees, VP of People and Partnerships at Domain7. Just a note that we are, like many of you, working largely from home and that these recordings may have a homemade flavor. We hope you enjoy joining us in our work and neighborhood environments for a little audio visit. Here’s Ceri.
Hello and happy holidays. Today I’m sharing a poem from the late American poet, Mary Oliver. It’s called Don’t Hesitate.
by Mary Oliver
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happens better than all the riches of power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’ be afraid of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
I came across this poem recently by Mary Oliver and it struck a real chord. There’s so much here that speaks to so many parts of the human experience, perhaps, especially so in 2020. Mary Oliver begins somewhat abruptly with an urgency in her writing. “If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate.” I feel myself caught, a bit like a rabbit in headlights. She’s nailed me. How often do I hesitate in the face of beauty and goodness? Why is that? We all have our reasons and Mary Oliver gives us some too.
“There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be.” She knows that there is much that is not right in the world. Who are we to experience joy while injustice is rampant, when lives are being destroyed? The poet acknowledges this. You can hear the grief in her words. “Much can never be redeemed.”
And then a hopeful and defiant turn. “Still life has some possibility left.” This is not a saccharine hallmark optimism. This is no falsehood or denial of fact. It is honest and sober recognition, followed by a great nevertheless. There is a way of fighting back and it’s better than all the riches or power in the world. A subtle rejection of what gave rise to the pain we experience in the first place.
And so she returns to something like a meditation on her own experiences of joy. “You notice it in the instant when love begins.” There’s an intentional ambiguity here. Does love open your eyes to see, or does your noticing you’re truly seeing open the possibility of love and of joy? It could be either or both. “Anyway, that’s often the case,” she says. And then what seems like a strange repetition of anyway. It’s as if she drifts off in her imagination in the space between two sentences and sees, smells, hears, touches, tastes memories of joy and of beauty.
And so she calls herself back to the present moment. “Anyway, whatever it is.” And then she hits us between the eyes. “Don’t be afraid of it’s plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.” I hear crumb and can’t help but see the opposite. I see a picture of plenty, of abundance, a table overflowing with simple food, homemade soup, fresh bread, butter, good, strong cheese. It’s a table of friendship. A fulfillment of stories shared. It’s a place of invitation, of welcome and belonging.
2020 has been a year. It’s been a hard year, a devastating year for many. It’s been a year in which some of us have started catching up to the harms and injustices that have been obvious to others for so long, injustices that have been perpetuated often, as Oliver says, in the pursuit of wealth and of power. It is right that we grieve, lament and work towards righting these wrongs.
It is also the case, in the universe’s great wisdom, that other truths remain, truths that will sustain us, energize us, indeed, be the battle cry for the work that needs to be done. So be alert to the possibility of joy. Learn to see with the eyes of love and may love itself give you new eyes. Feast on the abundance of all that is good and true.
So a couple of questions to close. Where are you experiencing joy? Does anything cause you to hesitate? What do you need to be released to lean in to joy’s plenty? I’m Ceri Rees with Domain7. Thanks for listening.
Ceri read the poem “Don’t Hesitate,” from Mary Oliver’s book, Swan: Poems and Prose Poems, published by Beacon Press in 2010.
The Conversation is a special edition of Domain7’s podcast, Change is in the Making. Our audio producer is Kurt Wilkinson and our designer is Ryan Martinez. Music provided by James Boraas, leadership and editorial support provided by Sarah Butterworth, Kevan Gilbert, and myself, Veronica Collins. Please tune in each weekday for the first half of December to hear more from our team on moving from 2020 into 2021 with hope and purpose, or visit us at domain7.com for more ideas, resources and podcasts. Happy holidays.