by William Stafford
It could happen any time, tornado
earthquake, Armageddon. It could happen.
Or sunshine, love, salvation.
It could, you know. That’s why we wake
and look out---no guarantees
in this life.
But some bonuses, like morning,
like right now, like noon,
If I ever adopted a mantra of some sort, this poem would be it---an incantation to soothe and calm my busy mind and worried heart. I recite this poem to myself frequently when I get caught up in the uncertainty of an unknown and unpredictable future. This poem reminds me to rest in the present moment and helps me when a personal or global earthquake has hit. No guarantees in my life, but a plethora of bonuses.
One year ago this month, a beloved Callanish friend was admitted to hospital for the last days of her life. Laura was open to visitors so when my friend Danielle and I arrived, her room was full of people—her husband, her three kids (in their twenties), her brother, her sister-in-law, her sister and two nieces. Laura was propped up on pillows in bed and her eyes were closed. She had been asleep for most of the day and had not spoken more than a few words in several hours.
Death was close.
Danielle had brought her guitar and songbooks in the hopes we could sing some of Laura’s favourites to her. Laura had sung in choirs most of her life and loved singing in the Callanish circles. The family nodded when Danielle suggested we sing together. To everyone’s surprise, Laura’s eyes popped open at the sound of the first strum. “Sing,” she said. “Yes, we must sing.”
For forty minutes or so, Danielle and I and Laura, along with ten of her family members sang everything from Let it Be, to Hallelujah, to Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and Imagine. Laura asked for song requests from her family, and she gazed with exquisite tenderness into the eyes of each one, held their hands and stroked their faces. For those blessed moments, in the very midst of this family’s earthquake, the brightness of song had wrapped around the deep sadness of Laura’s leaving. I knew that each one of us would be sustained by those bright moments, in the dark days of grief to come.