Thoughts on Mary Oliver’s “Clam” from today’s Writer’s Almanac
It’s not sentimentality. It’s not anthropomorphism. It is understanding of – empathy and compassion for – another living thing. We need to exercise this capacity for imagination more often – to imagine what it is like to be
another living thing – to imagine how they experience their lives.
Once you’ve come to understand a plant in this way, you never encounter it with the remark, "oh, that’s just a skunk cabbage." Rather, you meet it with expectation and interest, wondering what else it has to show you. And the wonderful thing is that this attitude begins to inform your overall orientation toward nature. Any other plant, bug, or bird you see appears immediately as a riddle and not a thing. You know it carries within itself – as you’ve experienced in skunk cabbage – a whole, unique world that’s just waiting to be disclosed.
Happy birthday, Wendell Berry. This interview
is filled with his humanity, his humility and realism:
People pursue perfection, and I suppose that’s a thing that humans have a duty to do, in a way. But there’s a tendency now to misunderstand this obligation to pursue perfection as a right to be perfect, to have perfection given to you. And so people enter into their relationships with one another and with their places with the idea that they have a right to expect those places and those people and those connections to be perfect, and then when imperfection appears, as it inevitably does, they feel that the have a right to be offended, and they don’t see the arrogance and the condescension in that.
It’s not up to the other people and the places and the relationships to be perfect. It’s up to every participant to make the relationship and the place and the other person as perfect as possible. We don’t have a right to give up on our choices and our places and, indeed, our cultural inheritance because it’s not perfect. We don’t deserve that they should be perfect. We have an obligation to make them perfect, if we can.
. It’s not an obligation to be taken lightly, and it’s not an easy burden. I’ve just begun to make that choice – in marrying and in making a home in one place – and in a few short years it has already been harder and richer and more satisfying than I thought possible, and in almost no way what I expected. Make a commitment and work to make it better, and it will make you better, too.