“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”
-Mary Oliver, The Uses of Sorrow
Mary Oliver, a poet who once said poetry mustn’t be fancy, recently passed away. When I heard this, I paused and let my heart sink a bit, said a little prayer, and reminded myself I need to follow through with my intentions. One of which is to read more Mary Oliver.
I immediately gravitated back to my Mary Oliver favorites. Summer Day. Wild Geese. The Journey. And I remembered The Uses of Sorrow. And I remembered how just this past weekend, I opened a box full of darkness, and inside I found a gift. Like you, I have many boxes of darkness that have been given to me, many unsolicited, through my life. Most of these boxes no longer hurt, but I cannot say all of them are regarded as true gifts.
Not a gift: My house. I always hated my house. My ex-husband liked it, and relationships are about compromise, so we said yes to the house. Oh my God I hated this house. The dark wood siding on the outside. The gazillion trees that littered their sticks and leaves when they no longer had use for them. The large backyard that slopes down to a creek and wooded space, but made yard work more difficult than it has to be. The random wall the previous owners put in to seal off the furnace (why?!). The unfinished crown molding. The old, drafty windows. The ridiculously small kitchen. The unusable coat closet. The creaky floorboards and cheap carpet. I hated everything about it. It took years and more money than is reasonable to update the house, and it’s still a work in progress. It’s slowly turning into a house I like.
There was a time I also hated everything about my ex-husband. Well, “hate” is a strong word. I was definitely angry at him, disliked him immensely, and really felt quite strongly about both. It took years to accept him for who he is and not be bothered by his decisions anymore. It’s still a work in progress. The hurt and anger are no longer there, but there are eyerolls when it comes to how my children are affected by his decisions.
This past weekend we had a bona fide snow day. Over 12 inches of snow. I knew what had to be done, and I rose to the occasion. I made ebelskivers, crepes, four loaves of bread, cookies, cake, pizza dough, soup. And a wreath. I know, a couple things are not quite like the others, but the general category was “Carbs to Slip You Into a Coma” for $800 please. When it snows, I reliably do two things: run and bake. These fill my soul.
So I’m mixing and kneading and rolling and baking in my kitchen. Looking out the window. Watching my kids with the neighborhood kids run through the backyard, sled down the hill, make igloos, throw snowballs. Hearing them scream and laugh and shriek.
I put the flour down and washed and dried my hands. I opened a box of darkness and found the loveliest gift. I found a house with a sturdy roof at the end of a cul de sac surrounded by kind and thoughtful neighbors. I found a home full of handprints and crumbs and cat hair that we could not have afforded with my social work salary and without my ex-husband’s military loan that didn’t require a down payment. I found a huge backyard perfect for sledding and snowball fights. I found a creek behind our house that is perfect for exploration and daydreaming. I found two little people who are actually mostly my size, who have forced me to be a better person.
And suddenly, a box that I had not paid much attention to in 12 years provided profound gratitude and deep lovingkindness. My ex-husband will continue to be who he wants to be. And there was a time we hurt each other on purpose, triggered each other unconsciously, misunderstood each other most of the time. And, not in spite of, but AND, he gave me the life I never knew I wanted.
Thank you, Ex-Husband for all of your gifts that have made me who I am today and given me this world of amazement. Thank you, Mary Oliver, for your not-fancy poetry that helps me better understand my one wild and precious life.
Again, love this. My grandmother used to say ‘ That which does not kill you, makes you stronger’. In other words, for me at least, it is all good, you just don’t know it yet.
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Love your take on her adage. I always took it as “suck it up, it builds resilience.” I like how you reframe it as everything has the potential for positive, it just hasn’t shown you that side yet. Love that. Thank you!