I sat down to write this morning, but didn’t really feel like it. That often happens; if you are also a writer, you might understand how sometimes even three or four sentences is a triumph. Today’s one of those days.
For no reason – or, perhaps because it was going to get me to the page this morning – I found myself thinking of a friend of mine. Years ago, before she had children, she told me that she took a bath every morning before work. I felt nothing short of amazement when she told me that; such an idea had never crossed my mind. My respect for her deepened.
It seemed like the ultimate exercise in self-care, to allow that small yet significant kindness at the start of a day. It was a stark contrast to how I spent my mornings then, running several miles through every kind of weather in a well-disguised attempt to outpace unhappiness I didn’t want to face, followed by a rushed routine designed purely to get me to my office. There was no room in those habits for gentleness towards myself; at the time, I couldn’t risk the acknowledgement that I needed that.
My life’s changed in many ways since then. Through time, conscious work on the things that haunted me, and trial-and-error, I’ve figured out how important it is to allow my whimsy to emerge on any given morning. I have things I do most days: exercise, write, stroll around on the internet a little bit. But some days I need something different.
This morning, instead of writing, it was reading. I wanted someone else’s words, and in particular, I craved poetry. I picked up a book of Hafiz, but was not satisfied; I thought about the Rumi sitting on my nightstand but knew he wasn’t the answer. So, as I often do in such moments, I turned to Mary Oliver, craving her grounding presence.
It felt indulgent, to read a poem referencing summer while it’s still February. I did it anyway. I read it a second time, a third, and then flipped to a new page. My heart calmed as I did, and I imagined my anxieties leaving me, at the same moment in which I returned to myself.
Though morning bathtime isn’t my thing, I send a silent kiss of gratitude across many miles, to land at my friend’s doorstep, appreciating her for telling me of her habits, all those years ago.
by Mary Oliver
When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend
all day among the high
my ripped arms, thinking
of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body
accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among
the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.