Aging well,  Personal growth,  Poetry,  the challenges of being original

Following your inner compass: “The Journey”

“And there was a new voice which you slowly recognized as your own.” — Mary Oliver

As we age, many of us — especially women — face the prospect of caregiving after our kids are grown. We might have to nurse an injured spouse or elderly parents; sometimes all at the same time.

As an only child, I had full responsibility for the care of my parents, and learned to answer calls for help at an early age. After my widowed mother became ill with heart disease and vascular dementia, I spent nearly 10 years focusing on her physical health and emotional wellbeing — while neglecting my own. I don’t regret it, but it took a while for me to learn how to take better care of myself after Mom died.

Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” gave me a new map. It’s still one of my favorite poems about honoring your own needs and following your inner guidance — guilt free. The poem brings shivers of recognition each time I read it aloud in my workshops. –CL

By Mary Oliver

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice —
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
“Mend my life!”
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations;
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do —
determined to save
the only life you could save.

— Reprinted from New and Selected Poems, by Mary Oliver (Beacon Press); 1992

Photo by Cindy La Ferle

Throughout my career, I've worked as a book production editor, travel magazine editor, features writer, and weekly newspaper columnist. My award-winning lifestyles features and essays have appeared in many national magazines and anthologies, including Newsweek, Reader's Digest, The Christian Science Monitor, Writer's Digest, Victoria, Better Homes & Gardens, Bella Grace, and more. My weekly Sunday "Life Lines" column ran for 14 years in The Daily Tribune (Royal Oak, MI) and won a First Place (Local Columns) award from the Michigan Press Association. My essay collection, Writing Home, includes 93 previously published columns and essays focusing on parenthood and family life.


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