My father’s spirit left his body in a darkened room six weeks ago. On the wings of his last breath, it ascended – a small cloud of color and energy. Believing, disbelieving – that is what my eyes saw.

My father, Joe Herndon, lived the life he wanted to live.

He did what it took to achieve his goals. He had only a few goals, and they were good ones.

He knew, even as an individualist and contrarian, that life is a team sport. He took care of the people around him.

He didn’t get stuck in his mistakes. Which were not small. Wiser, he strode forward into the future.

In the end, with Alzheimer’s, he floated outside of time entirely – but never outside of himself. “You bring me happiness,” he said to me, haltingly, a few days before he passed. He never forgot who he was, or who he loved.

I’m not aware that he ever read any poetry. But he loved the flowers my mother grew. Today’s photos are from her yard, and from the North Carolina Botanical Garden.

Jacob’s ladder

Today’s poem is from Mary Oliver. Her vision of death is nothing like what I observed. But her vision of life is sublime.

Little Sweet Betty (trillium)

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.

*     *     *

Eastern columbine

Swamp Azalea

*     *     *

Bonus material from Mary Jo Shankle, quoting Rumi:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass
the world is too full to talk about.”

Photos taken by Mary Jo in Hawkins Cove, Tennessee, near Sewanee. I believe the flower is golden ragwort.

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