Alive in each other’s company

Posted by

On a recent Saturday morning, I spoke poems to passersby at our village market. My booth held two blue lawn chairs with grey cushions, a small table graced with autumn flowers – bright orange zinnias and yellow sunflowers, and a shallow hand-woven basket filled with poem cards, all face-down. As people strolled by, I proffered the basket, and invited them to select a poem. The person reached into the pile and drew out a card. With their permission, I recited the poem.

It amazed me how often – I would say at least four times out of five – the person’s first response would be something along the lines of “this poem is absolutely relevant to my life right now.”

Frequently, tears arose in both our eyes. We sat together in the blue chairs, shaded from the hot sun. We looked into each other’s eyes. We talked of inner earthquakes: father, brother dying of cancer; coping courageously with mental illness; not knowing where and how the path ahead would unfold. The poems both guided and gave succour.

Listening to my guests, witnessing their open hearts, and feeling my own heart pulverized with tenderness, I was – am – struck by the holiness possible in human encounter.

In his poem, The Way Under The Way, Mark Nepo illuminates this holiness:

“Nothing compares to the sensation
of being alive in the company of
another. It is God breathing on
the embers of our soul.”

Once again I marvel that sharing poetry creates a tent for the soul in which we wayfinders can rest and take comfort in being alive together.

The Way Under the Way

For all that has been written,
for all that has been read, we
are led to this instant where one
of us will speak and one of us will
listen, as if no one has ever placed
an oar into that water.

It doesn’t matter how we come
to this. We may jump to it or be
worn to it. Because of great pain.
Or a sudden raw feeling that this
is all very real. It may happen in a
parking lot when we break the eggs
in the rain. Or watching each other
in our grief.

But here we will come. With very
little left in the way.

When we meet like this, I may not
have the words, so let me say it now:
Nothing compares to the sensation
of being alive in the the company of
another. It is God breathing on
the embers of our soul.

Stripped of causes and plans
and things to strive for,
I have discovered everything
I could need or ask for
is right here —
in flawed abundance.

We cannot eliminate hunger,
but we can feed each other.
We cannot eliminate loneliness,
but we can hold each other.
We cannot eliminate pain,
but we can live a life of compassion.

we are small living things
awakened in the stream,
not gods who carve out rivers.

Like human fish,
we are asked to experience
meaning in the life that moves
through the gill of our heart.

There is nothing to do
and nowhere to go.
Accepting this,
we can do everything
and go anywhere.

~ Mark Nepo



  1. janice falls

    September 27, 2017

    dear Mary Lou, how exquisitely you capture the essence of Nepo’s poem in your description of your encounters with people at the market – ‘the holiness possible in the human encounter’. Are we not blessed to have experienced what poetry can do when shared with another! So grateful to share with you. love Jan

  2. Zia

    September 27, 2017

    Heart-warming to read, Mary-Lou. You are doing wonderful work!

    “Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.” – Mary Oliver

    • Zia

      September 27, 2017

      Oops! Sorry! Didn’t mean to put the hyphen in your name. 😉

  3. Maureen

    September 27, 2017

    Oh Mary Lou….What a beautiful poem that describes the joy of human connection.
    This is so heart opening for me to read these words
    “like human fish we asked to experience meaning in the life that
    Moves through the gill of our heart.”
    THAnks for sharing the story of the market poem sharing.

  4. Sherry Galey

    September 27, 2017

    Yes, this poem of Nepo’s and your relating of your experience at the market is so apt for me right now in so many ways. Thank you so much for sharing and daring greatly.

  5. nicole langisi

    October 3, 2017

    Beautifully and heart warming. Thank you Mary Lou

Add a comment