Mary Oliver has written one of my favorite lines in poetry: “You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.” There is a lot of advice for international development workers and conflict specialists and nomads and travelers and ‘women on the road.’ I have been told not to get attached. To live fully and to experience everything and to not linger or get caught up in people, in stories, in places or in circumstances. I have been told this is no way for a love to grow and thrive; I have been told to settle down and I have been told to choose.
Mary Oliver still wins in my heart. There is a love somewhere across the ocean, in our former dusty home whose living room is probably unswept right now, and that love fuels me. It grounds me, it energizes me, it slows me down. It helps me process. It makes me look forward and it makes me reminisce. When I was a more emotionally stunted college student with 643 too many inhibitions, I never dreamed I would live like this. Writing about love on the internet — about my love no less! — violated every New England sensibility that had seeped into my Greek blood. Since then, I have lived in a dozen conflict and post-conflict zones, I have been terrified and drunk off life, I have unlearned a lot of ingrained habit, and I have let Mary Oliver teach me.
This is an excerpt from my latest column at Gypsy Girls Guide. To read more about what Mary Oliver has taught me about distance, life, love, and loneliness, click here.