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At 4:30 A.M., I awoke with this dream:

I’ve been invited to the University of Dublin to lecture on my favorite poet. Many students crowd the conference room. I’m surprised by their interest as my grasp of the subject matter is thin. I don’t even mention the name of the poet. Some take notes.

This curious dream is the first after weeks of waking with pieces of them, resembling Campbell’s Alphabet Soup: none made sense. A new medication seems to be messing with my REM or fifth sleep cycle from which dream stories emerge. This one has a bit of story.

My psyche places me on the campus of the University of Dublin, keen on academic research and innovation since its 1592 foundation by Queen Elizabeth I. Such a venue places me at the cusp of new learning, the challenge of each twenty-four hours allotted me before my transition. Never have I been so enthusiastic about learning. The setting also recalls my Irish roots, steeped in hardship.

For some reason, my favorite poet suggests my inner poet, undeveloped and left alone, a task perceived as too daunting whenever I did review journals of poetry. Classes did not light my fire. Yet, she is there, despite not knowing her true name, and I’ve an appreciative audience.

That my presentation feels thin suggests my rush to assimilate fresh materials rather than to relish them, to allow them root-room to grow and become something else, then, to share with others.

All the more important to trust this process, already well underway. My Teacher knows what I really need. It’s about surrendering.

Tidbits of wisdom come from unexpected sources, like messages found inside Dove Promise candy wrappers, this one attributed to Sotiria S. from New Jersey:

Be fiercely authentic.

What are the chances of my receiving the same mandate from the same large bag of chocolates, within the week preceding New Year’s? I do pay attention to such synchronizations. An uncanny authority emanates from these three words, its preponderance feels heavy, like there’s no choice—seeded within everyone’s birthright.

Long years and terminal illness suggest unalterable limits that juice the remaining seeds in my birthright like slushy grapes in a wine press, even to the last drop. In prayer, I watch fresh wine splashing within earthenware vessels, its rings evidence fresh acceptance and willingness to move into the Unknown. But more juicing, over which I’ve no control, lies ahead, despite its diminishment sapping the vitality of my body, in preparation for what is certainly coming.

So this mandate, a viable practice for wherever life finds you, stands for another twenty-four hours:

Be fiercely authentic.

Its fruits invigorate our psychic depths, develop unique spirits, and precipitate reckless abandonment to the Realm of Being, within all that is.

A well-crafted poem is a world unto itself: each word crafted upon the anvil of precision, then blasting psychic space for the inexperienced.

Such was my experience reflecting upon the poem, “We Should Be Well Prepared,” found in Mary Oliver’s collection, Red Bird (2008), fitting end-of-the-year advice for us all. It’s about endings that stay ended.

What a subject, you might ask? Only Oliver’s acute sensitivity and observation, honed since a child, taught her to voice the inexpressible, in the multi-valiance of life teeming around her. Therein, she dipped into the pool of metaphor and the ordinary became extraordinary.

So in this poem, she selected nine metaphors that brush the reality of death, inherent in all created life, and invited us to look with her: the plovers’ cry of goodbye, the stare of the dead fox, the falling of leaves and long wait for their return, the ended relationship, the effects of mold and sourness upon foods, the rushing of river water and days – “…never to return.”

The final metaphor bites hard:

         “The way somebody comes back, but only in a dream.”

Whatever shape our diminishment comes, it will come. Mary Oliver’s life-long experience reflects her commendable attitude and willingness to teach others. I’m sure she was well prepared the moment of her last breath, January 17, 2019.

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