By Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.
At my mom’s funeral, people did not come up to my eleven year old sister, Emilia, and I tolaud her professional accomplishments. We were not reminded of how extremely intelligent she was. Her net worth was not commended in her eulogy. The sympathy cards that poured in spoke not of the investments she held or kind of car she drove. Those we passed on the sidewalk or in restaurants did not give condolences because our house (the one the three of us lived in) has two floors or is priced above $250,000. No one cried because an academically accomplished woman died. No one mourns their neighbor, coworker, teacher, coach, friend, sister, daughter, mother because of what she had.We remember my mom because, “One time I posted on Facebook that I was in desperate need of a fun cake topper for my sisters’ wedding, Julie called me and told me she had just the thing… my sister’s cake was adorned with a Lego cake topper. It was perfect.”
We remember my mom because,”Mrs. Orosco taught me that I didn’t suck at math.”
And because, “Julie came over the day before my son’s birthday and helped me make fondant at 9pm.”
Because “Julie ayudÌ_ a asegurar que un traductor estarÌ_a en las funciones de la escuela, porque nosotros querÌ_amos ser parte de la educaciÌ_n de nuestros hijos.”
Because “Julie was an example for me.”
Because, “She went out of her way.”
Because, “Julie always cared.”
Because, “One time we were at a math conference in Chicago and I really wanted to go get a cheesesteak before we left the next day, so Julie walked across the city in the freezing cold to eat cheesesteaks on the curb with me.”
We cried because of the kindness she showed and the love she gave. We mourn because we miss her midday blue eyes that crinkled around the corners when she smiled. We remember my mom for who she was.
Accomplishments are not entirely overrated; money does not breed happiness, but neither does poverty. In every aspect of our lives, we make connections with the people that we meet, we touch their lives as they touch ours. These people come from work and the sidewalk, they come from communities, family, and the local grocery store. We will connect with people based on the decisions we make and things we have. That is true. Do not disregard completely the destinations for they guide the way, but really it is the journey that matters.
We have the opportunity, the journey that is this year, to make infinite connections to those we would otherwise never know. Those we would otherwise never understand. And those we would otherwise never call ourselves one with. The end of the year and all the great things we will strive for after, are the destinations, but it is our everyday actions with those around us that will last far beyond.
It is those connections we make, the extra second we spend and people we help. It is the meaning we derive from life in giving to others because we can, not because we should. Sharing smiles, laughs and mangos, that extra foot of height for the high candy on the shelf, the second of your time to hold the door. It is the person we are.
Life is a continuous progression toward a finite end.
One day, you won’t wake up.
One day your children will lose their mother. They will stand in the foyer of Saint Anthony’s Catholic Church on June 7th, 2014 at 10am and receive condolences from hundreds of people; flowers will fill your house and sympathy cards will pour into the mailbox. People will tell your children stories and share memories, moments, and smiles…
It is the journey that decides who you are after the destination has been reached.
What will you make of your journey?
How do you want to be remembered?
Because I promise, you will not be remembered by the things you have or the destinations you reach. You, you will be remembered by the person you are along the way.
Part of the Global Citizen Year curriculum included a Speak Up, a time allotted to each fellow to speak to the cohort about a topic of their choice. I did my Speak Up while we were in Dakar, Senegal’s capital, at In-Country Orientation. I had been feeling my mom’s recent death weighing on me and making interactions with others fellows difficult. I didn’t know who knew and who didn’t, I didn’t know how much people understood about me or what was perceived of this life altering event, if at all. I decided to confront the event and face it head on; it was time for me to open up to my fellow Fellows and soon-to-be lifelong friends. The previous essay is the speak up that I gave toward the end of September, right before we headed to our permanent homestays.
This message is relevant to not only the year that I and the other fellows embarked on, but to humans as a whole and life in its entirety. It is easy to look forward and focus on the goals. But there comes a point when there will be no more forward and all that will be left is what was behind.
I realized that my blogs, well the first two, were perceived in many different ways by readers. They were addressed to my mom, which is not unusual. I’m a teenager out on her own in the world for the first time, missing home and familiarity. The “Dear Momma” worked to touch readers of all ages, a literary device that gave my blogs format and relatability. But those who know me, or at least my recent life (well actually almost a year ago, wow) perceived my blogs very differently. And for me, the writer, whose life you read the blogs to learn about, they meant even more. Although I have struggled with whether I wanted to share this part of my life with those who happen upon my blog, I really was committed as soon as I wrote “Dear Momma.” And for the sake of pretending that it isn’t just my grandma who reads my blogs I think I owed it to you guys, and myself.
As I share this huge part of me with you all, as when I shared with my Global Citizen Year family, I send it forward with a message. My mom’s death can not effect your life like it has effected mine, it won’t forever alter your world or change your innermost being, but I hope that it can touch you, if only in the briefest of interactions, to make a connection and share kindness. It is in that moment that my momma’s spirit lives on, and that, is beautiful.