What is your work?

by Judith F Kennedy, PhD

Mary Oliver in her wise way tells me something incredible.

“My work is loving the world.

Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird—

equal seekers of sweetness

Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.

Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.”

This feels like an internal yes to me. This Saturday morning when I miss my family, when the old and familiar doubts set in: why am I here? Am I really making a difference? What is this mystery, this life?

I watch Bessie curled up on the top of the sofa. Sweetest dog on the planet, content in her sleepiness there in front of the large window, sun warming her in her nap, early green buds swaying on branches outside. Unlike the hummingbird, she doesn’t seek sweetness. She is sweetness, affection itself. She knows her work, no doubt, no hesitation.She watches me and is my guardian who reminds me to be grateful. She needs to alert the neighbors that we hear them coming down the hall. They are known to us, she tells them. She is committed to me, her work. I think there is almost nothing I could possibly do to break her spirit and her love.

“Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?

Am I no longer young, and still not half perfect? Let me

keep my mind on what matters,

which is my work.”

I can’t pretend any longer, yes I am no longer young. So why in this last third of my life do I feel more creative than ever? The words pour out of me. I watch the sky, I paint, I write and the energy just overflows. Unexpected gratitude comes from unlikely sources. Those green buds, for instance, dancing behind Bessie. They sway on long branches reaching all the way up to our fifth floor window. Hopeful harbingers. Spring here now, new life, new spring.

“which is mostly standing still and learning to be


The phoebe, the delphinium.

The sheep in the pasture, and the pasture.

Which is mostly rejoicing, since all the ingredients are here.

What is my work? Standing still and learning to be astonished. I am astonished. I’m astonished over and over at the beauty all around. I am astonished how even though I may feel low, something takes over and brings me right back to now, to the surface, to the redemption in everything, every moment. I am astonished at the crazy love I feel for my clients. My heart feels so full and warm, even when they won’t budge or when they admit hard things. They are here in front of me and I love the aching beauty it is to be human, to doubt oneself, to be lost. Yes, even beauty in that. Grace is waiting for them, full on grace, veils dropping, hearts opening, minds clearing from the dark night. I am so astonished at my full knowing that there are the ten thousand sorrows and the ten thousand joys and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well. I love them without embarrassment full of gratitude for their vulnerability and the teachings they bring.

“what is gratitude, to be given a mind and a heart

and these body clothes,

a mouth with which to give shouts of joy

to the moth and the wren, to the sleepy dug-up clam,

telling them all, over and over, how it is

that we live forever.”

So it is this Saturday morning, with Bessie still sleeping on the top of the couch and I sit here in front of this computer screen full of gratitude, full of the beauty of this moment.

Which is my work.