Inspiration at My Morning Table

Mornings at my writing table I like to begin (after lighting my candle) by reading a poem or a few pages from an inspirational book. This morning I chose Mary Oliver’s Upstream, opening to the bookmark where I’d last read.

In this section of the essay, “Sister Turtle,” Oliver wrote of a lecture she’d heard about the Whitney family. The talk by Mrs. Whitney’s granddaughter used the “fine phrase when speaking of her family—of their ‘inherited responsibility’—to do, of course, with received wealth and a sense of using it for public good.”

Oliver wrote, “Ah! Quickly I slipped this phrase from the air and put it into my own pocket!” and continued writing of her feeling about her own inheritance of an “immeasurable fund of thoughts and ideas from writers and thinkers long gone into the ground—and, inseparable from those wisdoms because demanded by them, the responsibility to live thoughtfully and intelligently. To enjoy, to question—never to assume, or trample. Thus the great ones (my great ones who may not be the same as your great ones) have taught me—to observe with passion, to think with patience, to live always caringly.”

Oliver’s writing and the naming of the writers and thinkers from whom she inherited not just “thoughts and ideas” but a way of living, set me to considering my own teachers and mentors, some “long gone into the ground” and some still alive and teaching and inspiring me. Oliver, certainly for one. Clarissa Pinkola Estes who awoke my own Wild Woman; May Sarton, who continued and continued writing; Steinbeck, who taught me humanity; Thomas Moore, who showed me how to care for my soul and live soulfully in the world. So many others—some who won’t be known beyond my own kinship with them, others who are revered by all of us.

I’m glad I chose Mary Oliver’s book to read this morning. I’m grateful she reminded me to remember and honor my teachers and my “inherited responsibility” of how to be in the world, how to live and how to care.

4 thoughts on “Inspiration at My Morning Table

  1. Inspiring thoughts Judy that really resonate with me…
    I suppose I often think about all the forces (people and experiences) that have helped to shape and influence my life – unfortunately not all positive. But even here I am humbled to think that any ‘adversity’ that had settled in my life was, in many strange and rather mysterious ways, also contributing to the making of me.
    My life has been a rich tapestry of experiences and I have made sense of it through the poetry of so many fine voices, Mary Oliver being one. Then there are artists like the Impressionists and Pre-Raphaelites who have coloured my world, composers who have left an indelible mark on my emotions ( Bach through to the Beatles ) and finally writers who have opened me up to understand my life a little bit better -Thomas Merton will always have special significance here.
    “ Everything that happens to you is your teacher. The secret is to learn to sit at the feet of your own life and be taught by it. Everything that happens to you is either a blessing which is also a lesson, or a lesson which is also a blessing. “

    Polly Berrien Berends

    Wonderfully inspiring words that I always keep close….

    • As always, Michael, your words resonate with me and I want to say “yes! yes!” each time you respond to a blog.
      I want to subscribe to your blog, too, so we can continue to dialogue that way, but didn’t see a way on your site. Can I?

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