Otherwise: The Wisdom of Jane Kenyon

I consider myself highly fortunate in living a rich and full life.

I’ve written before about the different elements that make me feel that way, so won’t run through the aspects of family, friends, spirit, sturdy health, meaningful work and financial stability that make me feel so blessed.

Part of the richness for me comes in the seemingly small details like waiting with a colleague to interview Chicago’s new mayor for the first time, hearing about a dear friend’s trip to Chile and Argentina with his family to visit their intrepid daughter, exchanging a tender good night greeting with my mother-in-law, or feeling the pleasure in a crisp sentence, the ability to comprehend Spanish and a deep breath that soothes me to my core.

A large part of the fullness, too, comes from my ever more heightened awareness both that these gifts are not inevitable and that, at some point, my life will end.

This knowledge pushes me not to live in a frenzied manner, but to savor and treasure what is in front of us now.

I of course am not the first person to reflect on these issues, nor, I am sure, will I be the last.

The late poet Jane Kenyon was married to Donald Hall, one of my mother’s former professors at the University of Michigan. Like Mom, she met Hall as a university student.

Shortly before her death from leukemia, she wrote Otherwise, a poem about this moment of recapping a day and thinking both about the many simple pleasures she had and the ever stronger knowledge that her time is limited.

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birchwood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

Like Kenyon, who was little older than I am now when she wrote this work, we all know one day it will be otherwise.  Her unflinching celebration of life’s joys-nature, physical health, a loving mate, work that matters and inspires passion, a shared meal and future prospects-and the sense that they will soon not be available moves and inspires me.

I hope it does the same for you.


6 responses to “Otherwise: The Wisdom of Jane Kenyon

  1. David Russell

    That is a great poem. “It might have been otherwise…It will be otherwise.” It moves and inspires me also. I’ve also got to mention to Meg your use of the adjective “intrepid” to describe her, I bet the first time it’s been used in that capacity, but a good choice!

    • jeffkellylowenstein3

      Thanks, Dave. Great to talk with you yesterday. Please feel free to pass the adjective onto Meg!


  2. Thanks, Jeff, for the reminder of Jane Kenyon’s lovely poem. I’m not a great fan of poetry, but this one strikes at my heart in an uplifting manner.

  3. Beautiful. So often we rue and ruminate about what might have been… Nice to reminded that “otherwise” goes both ways!

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