As I think more about the sadness in Arizona I was struck this morning by this poem from Mary Oliver (recall that I'm reading through her New and Selected Poems, Volume One).
The title of the poem is Beyond the Snow Belt. It's a meditation on a snow storm, news, death, and our affections. The poem begins with the news where Over the local stations, one by one/Announcers list disasters like dark poems. But the storm has missed Oliver's town: But once again the storm has passed us by/Lovely and moderate, the snow lies down/While shouting children hurry back to play. But north of them the news brings the story that people have died in the storm: Two counties north the storm has taken lives.
The poem then goes on to struggle with how this news leaves her town (and herself) unaffected, how we/Forget with ease each far mortality. Today this strikes me as similar to how we hear and react to tragedies such as the one this weekend in Arizona. These sad events seem very far away. Two counties north, to us, is far away/A land of trees, a wing upon a map/A wild place never visited. Consequently, due to a preoccupation with our own lives, we don't seem affected by the distant news of lost life.
The poem ends with a confession that this preoccupation with our own lives, in light of the troubles elsewhere, is a "fault." But our response is predictable as articulated in the final lines: except as we have loved/All news arrives as from a distant land.
That, to me, is the challenge. A challenge to expand our love so that there are no distant lands in our hearts.
Beyond the Snow Belt
Over the local stations, one by one,
Announcers list disasters like dark poems
That always happen in the skull of winter.
But once again the storm has passed us by:
Lovely and moderate, the snow lies down
While shouting children hurry back to play,
And scarved and smiling citizens once more
Sweep down their easy paths of pride and welcome.
And what else might we do? Let us be truthful.
Two counties north the storm has taken lives.
Two counties north, to us, is far away, -
A land of trees, a wing upon a map,
A wild place never visited, - so we
Forget with ease each far mortality.
Peacefully from our frozen yards we watch
Our children running on the mild white hills.
This is the landscape that we understand, -
And till the principle of things takes root,
How shall examples move us from our calm?
I do not say that is not a fault.
I only say, except as we have loved,
All news arrives as from a distant land.