Sunday, April 4, 2010


Appropriate words for this day of Easter is Mary Oliver's conclusive lines of The Journey:

determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

The first time I heard the in-flight safety announcements with a baby in my arms, I was not just startled, I was upset, agitated, stunned! “In case the cabin pressure changes, panels above your heads will open, revealing oxygen masks. Be sure to secure your own mask before helping others, including your children.” What? Securing myself before my child?

According to tiger mom instincts, the order of priority is totally contrary. I would rather die than......hmmm....wait a minute....If I’m dead from oxygen deficiency, who’s then to.....

You get the picture. As I did. Eventually.

Mary Oliver’s words carry a message not obvious at first glance. Save yourself might seem harsh and selfish. Yet, is there any other way? Does not Gandhi point towards the same when he urges us to be the very change we want to see in the world?

Then there are the biblical words of Paul - “Love other people as well as you do yourself.” The stress surely is on the latter part of the sentence - for can you really love your neighbor if you have no heart for yourself?


  1. Grete, I've so enjoyed following your thoughts on this Mary Oliver poem. It's a lovely idea, to take a poem and "live" it, especially one that has so many pertinent life lessons.

    As you point out here, I think it's so hard for us, especially women and mothers to save ourselves first. Our lives are so often bound by the expectations and needs of others.

    There is an Oliver poem that speaks to me (many poems, actually, but one in particular), which I've written out and carry in my wallet. She seems to have a window into my soul.

    I'm so glad Beth Kephart "introduced" me to you.

  2. it is our secret mission that we live every day. we carry ropes in our pockets. we wear our spikes on our soft slippered toes. we desposit oxygen sacks in our children's hair and narrow in secretly for tiny sips under the guise of kisses. we save ourselves at windows, still, and looking out onto the world. we save ourselves discretely, before our morning coffee, at our bathroom mirrors, lips back and considered already stained teeth. we save ourselves...

    i've been considering this muchly as of late as my life has turned. i've been considering my own selfishness and learning how there really was no other way.

    gorgeous way to meet this day. thank you, grete.


  3. i hope you don't mind that i linked to you. i am off to work now so won't know until i am home later if that is ok or not but what you wrote about here is so very important to me right now. i still struggle with it, but it gave me light this morning. thank you.


  4. Becca -

    Poems are weird and wonderful. They can be view from a distance or up close, they have a million different angles.

    I have chosen to tuck them into my bra and pockets and wallet. Suddenly I am intimate friends with the great minds of the world. What privilege!

    I understand you do the same. And Mary Oliver is a real blessing and a treasure.

    Woman and mothers, expectations and needs....yes, they are words you often see together.....

    I am so happy to be introduced to you as well!

    Erin -

    Your comment reads like a poem - phew - wow - wonderful! And so so true.

    we wear our spikes on our soft slippered toes...we save ourselves discretely, before our morning coffee.......

    .....oh, yes, we do. There is no other way......

    Wishing you the best of days.


  5. Erin -

    This conversation is great. And important. I have struggled with issues of care taking / “saving myself” for as long as I can remember. To be a caretaker is such a privilege. And such a demand. Sometimes I wonder what is what.

    All I can think of, is that every issue, every quality, has its opposite built into it. There is no day without a night, no laughter without tears, no cuddles without giving up a certain amount of whatever there is to give up.....

    Hope you had a great day at work!