One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice—
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save
the only life you could save.

Commentary: I have used this poem in pastoral counseling, Because it is about your life, and it is about my life, and it is about the Israelites getting out of Egypt in this week’s Torah portion.

Because, ultimately, the only life you can save is your own.

Irony: Mary Oliver died during the week of Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat when we read the Song of the Sea — the oldest song/poem that we have in our canon, the words that Moses and Miriam sang.

If Mary Oliver had been blessed with a Hebrew name, I think — no, I am sure — that it would have been Miriam.

I wish Mary Oliver a sweet, blessed final journey — to the place where prayers soar with nothing to hold them to earth.