Much of the fall semester, I felt drawn back to the U.S. through applications and other projects I had carried with me to my new home. Having completed all of my applications and nearly all of my transatlantic projects now, I’ve breathed a Spire-sized sigh of relief in this new year. I don’t usually make resolutions, but now that I’m nearly halfway done with my Mitchell year, I felt the need to reorient and recommit myself to this experience.
This semester, I’ve resolved to become a more active participant in my community here and to “suck out all the marrow of” my life in Dublin. Quoting Walden may constitute a cliché, but Thoreau’s statement of purpose, despite being undermined by his less-than-rugged context, is still one of the passages I return to most in American literature. I intend to “become present” in my time here through a number of engagements: by devoting more time to a significant research project I have joined that is focused on promoting mediation and transitional justice, by joining friends for pickup basketball on a weekly basis, by spending more time in pubs, and by continuing to play in as many soccer matches as possible.
I was reminded of the importance of savoring our time this past week when one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver, passed away at the age of 83. Her death was a somber memento mori, but it was also cause for me to return to her poems, which have inspired countless periods of reflection in my life. I cherish her works not only for their graceful grasp of the relationship that binds mankind and nature, but for their insistence on the examined life. Throughout her career, critics decried Oliver’s body of work as “simplistic.” But the clarity with which she captures the world around her is beautiful because it is unadorned, unembellished. Her poetry does not require ornamentation, but derives its incisiveness from its unique capacity for intricate observation. In the poem “Bone,” she writes:
Though I play at the edges of knowing,
truly I know
our part is not knowing,
but looking, and touching, and loving…
Throughout my life, and particularly in the last few months when I felt inordinate pressure to decide what I would do as soon as I returned from my year in Ireland, I’ve had a tendency to overthink things. Mary Oliver’s words are imbued with an understanding tranquility that quiets my thoughts and compels me to relish the “idleness” of the present moment. In “When Death Comes,” she writes:
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.
In one poem, she tells me to slow down; in another, her words call me to action. Both awaken in me an appreciation for the time I’ve been given and challenge me to spend that time immersed in the joys of human and natural connection.
In this spring semester, I hope to rededicate myself to Thoreau’s mission and to embrace Oliver’s contemplation of the preciousness of life in the face of death. I still have at least five (and hopefully seven!) months to grow closer with the scholars around me, with my classmates at UCD, with my teammates on the soccer team, and with my fellow researchers and advocates on the transitional justice project. Here’s to resolutions, to using these months wisely, and to making many more memories like the ones below.