Here You Are, Alive
And that is just the point . . . how the world, moist and beautiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. “Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?”
“Here you are, alive.”
And to that fact, I don’t believe there is any more serious response than pure rejoicing.
I don’t remember doing a whole lot of rejoicing over pure aliveness when I was a child. I did, I suppose, what most children do, accepted my life as an unasked for gift, one that was important simply because it was mine.
We were not a particularly rejoicing family. My parents were responsible, certainly. Hardworking. As a family we were courteous and respectful most of the time. And I do remember with real affection my mother’s tuneless humming as she went about her household tasks, especially in her beloved kitchen.
I also remember, carry in my bones, in fact, my father’s deepest philosophy expressed in a single statement: “Life is a dirty deal.” He had supporting arguments, too.
I listened, of course. How could I not? I was curious, bemused, silently skeptical.
Maybe it was my mother’s humming and the way she sometimes said, “Oh, Daddy!” in a tone of gentle disgust when he said such things that made it possible for me to stay skeptical.
Still, I was the kind of child who paused on the red-slag road halfway up the hill to turn back to gaze at clouds piling and piling behind me, too caught in their beauty to hurry away from the approaching storm. I was the kind of young adult who rose out of the dark thrall of existentialism to decide—simply decide, because I knew there could be no proof—that my life mattered. Mattered for no reason except that I felt it did, though I knew my father would have told me that my feelings proved nothing at all. And so I decided to matter and decided, too, that if my life mattered, the lives around me had to have significance as well. Because surely I couldn’t be the only creature to possess such a gift.
In the years upon years that have followed, the gift has been sharpened—I can even say blessed—by an evolving and inevitable acquaintance with death. Can any of us truly appreciate the sweetness of the air that fills our lungs before we have met death?
My comment on it all now? Past the deaths of both of my parents, past the death of my son, past the deaths of too-many friends . . .
Only that nothing is more sacred than life in all its forms. My own life, the lives of my daughter, my partner, my grandchildren, my friends. My dear little dog. The life of the lilac bush blooming in front of my house and of the dandelions so exuberantly blessing my lawn. The lives that are no more and the lives that are not yet. The life of this blue and white planet, moist and beautiful as Mary Oliver reminds us, and of this ever-expanding universe.
Year after year, I have lived into this knowledge, and now I have found a way to put my belief into words. I have framed my comment on being alive. My hymn to the universe. A kind of 21st century creation myth. All gathered into less than 450 words as the text of a picture book to be called The Stuff of Stars.
The Stuff of Stars says that the creative impulse that exploded with the Big Bang goes on exploding, unfolding, innovating still. It says that life comes out of death, that we have planets only because stars died, that we have humans only because dinosaurs died, that we have children only because our ancestors died, making room, making room.
It says that we are all made out of the same stuff. Butterflies and giraffes. Redwoods and moss. Leaping water and steadfast stone. All stardust.
The Stuff of Stars says that that you and I are stardust come to consciousness, at last, and that is the deepest wonder of all.
What a privilege to have gathered the skills to speak my heart’s truth in such a simple form.
What a privilege to be alive!