Anne Sexton lists many wounds in her poem about life’s pain that I quoted here yesterday: She speaks of ‘When they called you crybaby, or poor, or fatty, or crazy, and made you into an alien…” She seemed to feel such unease about her life, an unease that did not stop until the day she ended it. Having gone over her manuscript for her next collection The Awful Rowing Toward God with her friend and fellow poet Maxine Kumin, she went out to her garaged car, started the engine and sat there until the carbon monoxide essentially overcame her by-then unconscious body.
I only mean to say make it clear today that whatever pain living may have caused and however much I praised that poem, I would never do what she did – as long as I was well look out at the sky and know I was looking at it; to gaza at the faces of my caregivers and know them for the benevolent angels that such people are….
As long as I could know myself to still be balancing the brimming chalice that is life I would not consider suicide.
Here’s the poem that for me outlines the best way to look at death. Mary Oliver wrote it, and for 20 years a framed copy of it has hung on a wall in my house. Give it a read and tell me you don’t find it beautiful, and comforting, and inspirational:
When Death Comes
When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse
to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;
when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,
I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?
And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,
and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,
and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,
and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.
When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.