For Mary Oliver, it was trout lilies.
For me, it was day lilies. In the field. In the woods. At the end of my street. The same woods I traversed to get to the library, the ones that always left scratches on my legs from sticks and weeds. Where my best friend Hannah wasn't allowed to play on her own because some people lived there from time to time, but I never bothered them and they never bothered me.
I loved my lilies, much like - it seems from the poem below - Mary Oliver loved her lilies.
by Mary Oliver
It happened I couldn't find in all my books
more than a picture and a few words concerning
the trout lily,
so I shut my eyes.
And let the darkness come in
and roll me back.
The old creek
began to sing in my ears
as it rolled along, like the hair of spring,
and the young girl I used to be
heard it also,
as she came swinging into the woods,
truant from everything as usual
except the clear globe of the day, and its
Then she stopped,
where the first trout lilies of the year
had sprung from the ground
with their spotted bodies
and their six-antlered bright faces,
and their many red tongues.
If she spoke to them, I don't remember what she said,
and if they kindly answered, it's a gift that can't be broken
by giving it away.
All I know is, there was a light that lingered, for hours,
under her eyelids - that made a difference
when she went back to a difficult house, at the end of the day.
The grace, rich grace, for her was in the beauty she found outside of her house. The same was true for me.
I explored those woods. I breathed in the serenity of the flowers that grew with no care given to them and determined to grow in the same way. I drank from honeysuckle plants and ate the berries Hannah's mom said might not be safe and sometimes stole oranges off the trees in the neighbor's yard that bordered the woods. I looked more than a little wild most of the time, with twigs stuck in my hair and dirt smudged under my eyes and red lines where the bushes had cut into my skin, but I loved it there.
The safety wrapped around behind our house too, leading to the back of a church. I learned to worship for real there, daring to ask all the hard questions of God that weren't allowed in church.
And then I came home at the end of the day, with a light that lingered for hours under my eyelids.
Those woods are mostly gone now, replaced by new apartment buildings that can never hold the same mystery or majesty as those day lilies. And for a time, the light that lingered under my eyelids was gone too, as I tried to forget the brokenness of that time which meant I forgot the beauty too. When we numb the bad, we end up numbing the good too. We can't pick and choose, just taking the M&Ms from the trail mix of life and leaving all the rest for some other poor schmuck.
So now, though the remembering be painful, I'm finding myself embracing it all. The beauty. The brokenness. The wild girl who dared to hope and dream under those trees. The reckless faith she found for the first time there.
More than that, I'm learning that a Light really can shine in the darkness without being overcome by the shadows... and I'm grateful, both for that Light and for the light lingering again under these eyelids of mine.