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We are all philosophers

Last week I read Mary Oliver's beautiful poem In Our Woods, Sometimes a Rare Music. Here it is for you.

Every spring

I hear the thrush singing

in the glowing woods

he is only passing through.

His voice is deep,

then he lifts it until it seems

to fall from the sky.

I am thrilled.

I am grateful.

Then, by the end of morning,

he's gone, nothing but silence

out of the tree

where he rested for a night.

And this I find acceptable.

Not enough is a poor life.

But too much is, well, too much.

Imagine Verdi or Mahler

every day, all day.

It would exhaust anyone.

It seems simple as she's written it, but that's a hallmark of Mary Oliver's work and it's one reason why she won a Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1984.

Later, I was reading Humans of New York Stories by Brandon Stanton and I was struck by the poignancy, the brilliance, the depth and truth of some of the things that very ordinary, randomly selected people n the streets of New York said to him as he took their photo and interviewed them. And, while we may not win Pulitzers, we all have some wonderful, wise and surprising stories to tell. From HONY Stories, there's this:

  • "I want to be an artist." "What kind of art do you want to make?" "I want to make different versions of myself." -- said a young boy with a bicycle

  • "Sometimes, when I'm going home to see her, I think: Nobody should be this happy on a Tuesday." -- said a 30(-ish)-year-old man with a bouquet of flowers in his hand.

  • "I feel stuck." "What's keeping you stuck exactly?" "If I knew that, I'd be unstuck." -- said a hipster sitting on a stoop smoking a cigarette and nursing a fountain soda.

  • "The pigeons always come, but I wasn't expecting the ducks!" -- said a slender , white-haired old woman sitting on a park bench feeding pigeons -- and one duck.

We all learn life's lessons and, as we go along, if we're lucky and paying attention, we gain wisdom. Maybe we're stubborn or resistant or not paying attention, so life has to keep on teaching us, and maybe we aren't going to be the next poet laureate or write the great American novel or invent the next big thing that the world must have. It's all fine.

Just keep learning the lessons. Keep living your life. Be there for it. Show up. You'll live your way into the answers, as Rilke hoped, and eventually become your own best philosopher -- a lover of wisdom.


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