For the Anniversary of My Death

It’s easy during this season of holidays to get so caught up in the preparations – the shopping, cooking, cleaning, errand-running and all the rest – to miss the actual event itself. But if we choose, we can find a moment or two where the we not only observe the holiday but allow it to draw us beyond the ordinary. Which is only appropriate, as the word holiday itself is a combination of words, “holy day,” a day set aside to contemplate and give thanks for the blessings of this life.

What I like about W.S. Merwin’s poem “For the Anniversary of My Death” is that it offers us a snapshot or frozen moment of such introspection. It occurs to the poet that he has no idea on what day he will die but each year traipses past it unawares. And of course it’s not about anniversaries but rather the knowledge that this life is transient and that we are travelers, enjoying the splendors of this earth only for a time. This knowledge doesn’t serve to sadden us but rather makes more poignant and beautiful the moments we share.

But it’s not just about poignancy; it’s also about hope. For we are travelers, passing through this life toward another reality, one that may feel more natural, more “right,” than many of our moments here. At some point, Merwin confesses, all that is difficult or out of kilter or foreign will pass and we will find ourselves in the presence of the eternal. If that is true, then we may find the courage not just to endure, but even to flourish, amid the difficulties of the present.

I hope that your Thanksgiving is filled with many good things, not least among them a sense of beauty, poignancy, hope, and gratitude for this blessed and challenging life we’ve been granted.

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveler
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

W. S. Merwin, “For the Anniversary of My Death” from The Second Four Books of Poems.