Someone close to me sent me a booklet a while ago, photos and written memories of her life. It’s a fascinating glimpse into a childhood spent solo with older parents in upper Manhattan, a gentle childhood filled not with money, of which there was very little, but with family card games, shared meals, trips to museums and playgrounds, school days and summer camp upstate. Black and white photos show a small, smiling girl in the embrace of a mother and father who clearly adored her. Here they are leaning against a railing by Rockaway Beach. Here they are on the stoop of an apartment building. Here’s the little girl on the first day of school.
One page in the booklet stands out to me. Titled “Dresses,” it details three dresses from her childhood – the look and feel of each, from fabric to trim to length and fit. Her mother made her these dresses while she was away at camp one summer, and she returned to find them carefully laid out on her bed. When I told the writer how struck I was by that particular entry, she laughed, embarrassed. I almost didn’t put that page in the book, she said. Dresses. Such a silly, superficial thing to write about. But it was that small page, so precise in detail and image, that almost brought me to tears. We don’t have to write about the blue iris. We can write about weeds in a vacant lot, or a few small stones, or three small dresses. The memory of which, still bright and clear after a lifetime, feels to me like a doorway into thanks, and into the nature of love.
Praying, by Mary Oliver
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.