Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Reflections on Mary Oliver's "The Journey"

In his book, Ten Poems to Change Your Life, Roger Housden examines this poem, the way it speaks to us and wakens within us the desire to live more authentically.   He reveals the massive change that took place in his life (ending a relationship and moving from England to California) and how it changed him.  I too, experienced a moment where everything inside me shifted - several moments, actually - over the course of this past summer.  It is almost impossible to explain that kind of epiphany, but Oliver does it so well in this poem. 

My marriage was a fairy tale to everyone, including me!  Which made it so hard to walk away from.  All the voices coming at me, directly and indirectly "Don't do anything rash," and "is she off her meds?" and "what a shame."  I could have tried harder, I know this, as I tried and tried for years and years to justify, to reconcile these warring thoughts that had been raging quietly within me for all that time.  There was a moment, in the middle of the night, during one of the extremely rare conversations that passed for an argument, when everything crystallized in my head, and I knew what I had to do.  And it was hard, and sharp and painful, but liberating too.  In my quest to hold everything together, to live up to that fairy tale standard that Husband and I had set so long ago - we ourselves barely more than children - I had forgotten how to live authentically.  All the self help books tell you to put on your own oxygen mask first, and I had forgotten this rule in the tumult of life.  That fresh air, when I finally breathed it in, was strange and wonderful.

Over the course of 20 years, Husband and I learned how to walk on eggshells, our lives were a minefield of eggshells.  Every conversation that might have become a disagreement turned into a piece of ground that could not be tread upon.  We spent so much time avoiding conflict, watching our feet, that we never looked where we were going.  When I looked up, finally, I didn't like where I was.  And I don't think he liked where he was either, but that's not really for me to say.  The lies you tell yourself start to look like truths after a while, I think. 
Now I am doing the only thing I can do, which is save my own life from regret, to examine myself not in the hazy pink glow of some fractured fairy tale, but in the light of the sun.  Maybe some people could have done that and stayed married, but I am not one of those people.  It reminds me of a novel by Anne Tyler I read, a long time ago, called Back When We Were Grownups

Oliver's poem suggests "the birth of a new self, one not conditioned by the past." according to Housden.  I am finding it difficult to free myself from the conditioning of the past.  I see behaviors in myself, protective, evasive, self sacrificing - I am aware of them now, in my interactions with others, in ways I didn't notice before.  They are getting easier to spot, but changing them is going to be a long process.  The whole process of finding myself, that's what I'm doing here, in my life and on this blog.  


  1. It's amazing what a month or so in your own head can do for you. It's just been over the last week or two that I've started to feel like myself again. And you're right; the fresh air is strange but wonderful. Don't lose sight of the fact that you are doing it and can do it. The birth of a new self is difficult, but worthwhile. And I know you can do it just as surely as I know (now, and finally) that I can as well.

    If you don't want me posting here, just say the word, but I honestly enjoyed seeing this. I didn't think I would, and didn't actually plan to read it until I talked to you this morning. I'm glad I did. And I still think you're pretty cool.

    1. I'm glad you read and posted. Your perspective is and always has been valuable to me. We're going to get through this. I'm working my way through this book, Ten Poems to Change Your Life, and you're welcome to work through them with me - since we're both changing our lives!
      I think you are pretty cool too.