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.