Let me start by saying that I apologize for that title that may or may not have planted an earworm of a certain Disney song in your mind. But rather than the musings of an ice queen, this particular reference was inspired by another poem by Mary Oliver, whom I have been reading for a Lenten study. This poem, entitled “In Blackwater Woods”, references many things, including nature, fire, mortality, and loss.
The last few lines are the ones most often quoted:
To live in this world you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.
–Mary Oliver, In Blackwater Woods
Naturally these lines are commonly associated with love and loss. But the question/reflection for the second Sunday in Lent was to “make a list of what you need to embrace and to release in order to live more fully” (page 9, The Poetry of Lent, a Lenten Companion to Mary Oliver’s Devotions). What one needs to embrace is often an easy question to answer. But what to release; what to “let go?”
The entire concept of Lent revolves around “letting go” in the forms of fasting, sacrifice, and penitence. The most common way those who observe Lent do so is to resolve to “give something up”, which runs the risk of reducing Lent to a Jesus-esque New Year’s resolution. But the goal, the purpose, of Lent is to draw closer to God. That can often be accomplished through prayer and reflections about that which one has given up. Those of us who lead very comfortable lives require very little in the way of sacrifice to make us uncomfortable. But even more than simply giving up things such as meat, chocolate, or – for me – workday Starbucks – we should also focus on giving up thoughts or practices or which do not allow us to fully connect with God and others.
I had joked that this year for Lent, not only was I giving up that Mon-Thurs Starbucks (and donating what I may have spent to a charity each week) but also giving up “reading the comments.” Like most people, I spend far too much time on social media and, although I have recently pruned my friends list for my sanity and mental health, I still am guilty of scrolling through the often outrageous comments on posts on social media and wishing I hadn’t.
Reading the comments is never a good idea. So I have really tried not to get sucked in lately on public posts and threads, especially on Facebook. But I still find myself getting overly upset at those who – in my and the CDC’s opinion – aren’t doing their part as far as social distancing, wearing masks, or other actions to curb the pandemic. And with the governor of Arkansas on Friday rolling back what little restrictions we have managed to employ, potentially removing mask mandates by the end of March and immediately converting directives to guidelines, the lax attitudes and behavior are only going to worsen.
Oddly enough, all of my righteous indignation does not do a thing in the world to change the thoughts and behaviors of people not wearing masks, continuing to socialize with large groups of people or minimizing the severity and potential complications of COVID-19. I have learned not to engage with people online on these hot button issues and I am not out and about enough that I encounter people in real life situations. That isn’t the problem. The problem is the anger and the resentment that I feel when I see posts, even from complete strangers, exhibiting behaviors that I find irresponsible and reckless. I feel as though if I can make these choices for the common good, why can’t everyone? Seeing a post on social media can literally ruin my mood for hours. I often find myself starting conversations with my family with “did you see….?” The negativity festers and does nothing to improve the situation or problem. That anger and that negativity…I must learn to let that go.
Does this mean that I will not express my opinion about continued responsible behaviors and actions concerning the pandemic? No, of course not. And you better believe that if I encounter someone doing something which I perceive to be to the detriment of the health and safety of my family, I will say something. But I cannot control other people. I can only control and make decisions for myself and my family. I pray that others will do the same but the fact that many do not…I must learn to let that go.
This week’s morning prayer is a reframing of the classic serenity prayer: “God of grace, help me love what is mortal. help me hold on to what needs to be embraced, let go of what needs to be let go – and have the wisdom to know the difference.” (page 9, The Poetry of Lent, a Lenten Companion to Mary Oliver’s Devotions). Moving forward this week, I am going to continue doing what I have been doing regarding common sense and scientifically sound precautions about COVID-19. I will continue to pray for those who have lost loved ones and who may suffer long term health issues from contracting the illness. I will remember those who are suffering greatly in isolation who aren’t able to be around their friends and family. I will eagerly await the day I and the remainder of my family can be vaccinated (so far we are at my mom, my father-in-law, my sister-in-law in healthcare and my close co-worker). And yes, I will still follow the news stories, the public policies, and the cooperation (or lack thereof) of my local community regarding restrictions and guidelines. But as far as harboring bitterness and discontent at others words and actions related to social media (provided those words or actions are not inflicting hate or harm), I will (with God’s help) endeavor to “let it go.”
Karri Temple Brackett
February 28, 2021
Link to The Poetry of Lent:
For more information on Lent:
A quickie analysis of In Blackwater Woods: