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Monday, November 21, 2016

The Beauty of the Living World

Decades ago, I bought a little red Birthday Book—the official title—that includes “astrological notes and selected quotations.” I’ve used it over the years to note the birthdays of friends and family, going through it each month and marking the dates on my calendar. Pre-Facebook, this meant I was sure to send a birthday wish their way and/or make a date for lunch or dinner.

Recently I’ve become aware of the number of people I’d put in the book who I’ve lost touch with or who are no longer living, the latter including my father and step-mother (my mother having died in the mid-1960s); both sisters-in-law; and three pretty significant friends, all younger by a couple of years than I.

And so what was once a way to celebrate their lives—these people so close to me—is now how I mark their deaths.

Earlier this month, I had my own birthday, and, for some reason, it felt more like a solemn occasion than a celebratory one, despite the fact that the Cubs won that night and I found $40 earlier in the day.

I think the solemnity is related to those Birthday Book names that are now among the deceased, especially as that list is only going to keep growing. You can’t be old, even young-old (65-74), and not face that reality.

And so when a friend emailed me the following poem a couple weeks after my birthday, it struck a chord. Or, as I wrote in reply: “Thx for sending, especially as these exact thoughts have been coursing through my mind lately.”

by Stephen Dobyns

The awful imbalance that occurs with age
when you suddenly see that more friends

have died, than remain alive. And at times
their memory seems so real that the latest

realization of a death can become a second,
smaller death. All those talks cut off in midsentence.

All those plans tossed in the trash.
What can you do but sit out on the porch

when evening comes? The day’s last light
reddens the leaves of the copper beach.


Yes, and so what can we do with all this loss, but celebrate the beauty of the living world—and of those we loved who were once part of it.

NOTE: "Recognitions" by Stephen Dobyns from The Day's Last Light Reddens the Leaves of the Copper Beech. © BOA Editions, Ltd., 2016. Reprinted with permission on The Writer’s Almanac website.

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