The Wisdom of Mary Oliver – in Times of Trouble/In Times of Sorrow


“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.”

I don’t know if Mary Oliver would write a passage like the «Wicked is the soul» passage I wrote below in the Epilogue section, but maybe she would if she were a librarian and, regrettably, suffering from insomnia.

I normally don’t suffer from insomnia. When missing Mary Oliver I can pick up her poetry that soothes me to sleep.

For the past several years – contributing to said insomnia – there’s been next door’s lights shining into my window & thus, disrupting sleep.

I also can’t sleep because the one person who loves me the most can’t protect me. She’s got a head injury. She was hit by a car on Christmas.

She’s having a hard time doing the things she loves.

In many ways my partner is experiencing loss and I am experiencing loss. I realize I took her for granted. I know I did because it is extremely hard to manage even walking the dog or folding the clothes without her because of the accident. She handled a lot.

I can’t begin to imagine what she is feeling on the inside – I know it must be hard. I am up writing as she is able to sleep a bit.

Then earlier this month, her mother died. I miss her mother too. Her mother was my mother-in-law. And, we couldn't see her one last time before she died – because of the injuries she sustained, she simply could not do it.

They come in threes

I was hoping, praying, that there wasn't a third “bad” thing. I was hoping that the third bad thing – you know, because they can come threes – would be good for a change.

Last August, I lost my therapist of 9 years – the therapist died in a car accident because a driver illegally hit her vehicle head on. My therapist was a witness to my struggles with life, depression, breast cancer – mistakes I made, and last, a witness to my small successes. She is gone from this earth and I miss her wisdom.

In September (only a month later) I lost my god-sister. She was kind and good to me. It seemed for a long time that she was the only nicest person to come my way: until she passed away in her sleep. My godsister was only 56. Too young. She was a nurse. She helped people get well – her ex-patients were at her funeral. she is gone from this earth and I miss her warmth.

Why would anyone care if I lost two good people? Frankly, I did not have a life filled with good people. I had abusers abusing me. The gamut. Yet, I crawled out of life, slowly and surely, I climbed. Until September, I felt as if I could safely say that the affirmation: “I am an emotionally resilient person.”

I still am – that is the good news here. In my case, my last “3” actually turned out to be good.

Because after the blow of my two losses, I got a job. I was working my way – about a good 5 years – to get this job. It was wasn't easy. There were many people going out for this job. And, with the help of my partner (who is not doing good now) I was able to land it. She helped me with my resume. She coached me – I did the rest and, now? I am here. It was a very happy day to get this job.

I was sad to leave my former because I loved what I did.

All in all? Two bad things. One good thing.

I told a friend this as we were walking to get an afternoon coffee. I told most my friends that there is surely a silver lining to what was going on since the Christmas Day accident. I was hoping that last major event after the death of her mother would be a good one.

It wasn't.

It got worse – which is why I am up writing.

How Do You Hold Darkness?

A person came into public space and made a real nasty, ugly, uncomfortable environment. It escalated because of his shallow ego – he’s the type that is easily slighted and could knife you. He does not seem homeless but he’s bad news. His brand of bad had been going on a bit with him talking loud on the phone and having a vulgar convo at that.

I basically don’t want to throw people out on rainy days. But this behavior was so out there that I needed to call security. Only one peace officer showed up.

The person causing the disruption is a challenge to deal with – I have had 3 prior exchanges with him before, and each time my hackles went up and my Spidey Sense was tingling – but, I know in my heart that I've been professional even sympathetic and non-judgmental each time.

This guy has a chip on his shoulder (for every little thing). It’s not his appearance or tats: I have old homies from LA with tears on their faces – they had personal reasons like, death of loved ones while they were in prison – or some real sad times.

I hear the common stereotype that it’s because one committed murder. Or it’s to mark a prisoner as property by a prison rapist. It depends on the back-story and frankly, I overlook it. Generally, all ex-felons have the right to be in the world once they serve time. Everyone, on an “ideal” level gets to start anew.

It’s no wonder that – in general – they to people like me who won’t disclose their records or patiently help them find resources to remedy their cases.

In retrospect, in putting the pieces together, he is the type who fails to see how his behavior effects people around him.

He gets off on drama and loves causing it – looking to poke fun and harassing in a very passive aggressive way.

How would Mary Oliver talk to him? Better yet, maybe she’d hide in tall grasses and telekinetically tell geese to fly around him.

Nevertheless, policy advocates said that verbal threats are discriminatory. It’s been given a month ban. This is not a homeless issue. It’s a criminal issue.

I serve homeless people every day: I am happy to help people out – especially when they just need a helping hand.

All they need is someone like my partner, or my therapist or my god-sister to be the kind person – ever so slight – who makes a difference.

However, I cannot help people who are not going to help themselves. I cannot help people who only cause harm and do bad – that is not what I can do.

Given that I know he’s trouble, I still gave him a chance. Respecting his privacy I did not listen on every word. I nicely asked him to take his phone conversation outside the reading room: with a courtesy note.

He’s corrected that loud, talking on the phone behavior before. But yesterday, it was like he had a hair up his nose. He dismissed me, and got louder. Then, a female patron got corrective with him.

I called security to ban him for the day because he refused to correct the behavior. But, I did not feel safe so I called from another desk away from his line of sight.

Normal people, the poor, mentally ill, rich, working class usually get loud, annoying calls – I give them a bit of time to answer the call and 80% excuse themselves because they know they are in public space.

20% may need a gentle reminder. Of that 20% there are people like him who see that I am the problem – yet, I can see it from his distorted side: I am in his way. The other patrons need to quit looking at him or whatever he’s thinking. Worse, he calls the female patron a bitch for shushing him.

Really: he’s a sociopathic bully.

It’s getting to the point where a female customer is mad at me – rightly so because she got called a bitch by him. “Tell him to shut up, why don’t you guys do something?!”

I can only assume:

  • We don’t do anything because they are irrational.
  • We don’t do anything because nothing really happens to them – most times.

I motion her away from the desk (so he can’t see – mind you, he’s still on his phone) and tell her, “Sorry for the disruption, we called security.” That is the best I could do for now.

I am off my game. Filled with fear and adrenaline I know that this situation will get ugly: baleful threats, menacing behavior aside – he isn't safe to be around because the other patrons can be uncontrollable too.

My colleagues ask, “How come you didn't hide?”

I answer, “I froze.”

I also did not want to engage with him, but at the same time needed to stay back at the desk to get a description – it later turns out downstairs that he doesn't give his name. He does this do that he will be hard to trace if he came back.

Instead of getting him removed for a day (a course of action appropriate for his violation of our Code of Conduct). They give him a 3 month ban for threatening my life (that’s another violation altogether mind you) because he said coldly, “These library cops don’t have guns. You think you’re safe, bitch?”

He said other terrible things not worth repeating and, basically a reflection of the terrible treatment he must've received. I am also writing about it because you, dear readers, need to read it. You become my witness to this struggle here. In all possible ways, I am hoping this frees me – I am hoping it frees you to stand up to really frightening things that scare you.

Much Later

It takes me about four hours in between working my regular duties, answering emails, planning and testing to complete the incident report. I finally post it and my boss happens to have it up in the reading room — and he comes back in!

He snuck back in after the morning event.

That says aggravated trespassing off the top of my head. Aggravated trespass can be a felony or misdemeanor depending on your criminal defense. It’s when a person threatens you, you feel fear and within 30 days comes back into your place of work to mess with you. I’d have to establish intent here but he signed into a see-through glass study room, back up to the floor I work on – possibly to mess with me- given his threat, it felt that he was waiting for me to come to the desk he saw me at earlier: at least that’s what I am thinking.

My boss calls me, calmly asks what the person was wearing today, and tells me, “OK. That’s him. I’ll call security.”

It was nice to feel his support and have my back, but it was disturbing to find out what happened after that.

I ask to stay off desk. My colleagues covered for me. I find out he’s been taken to the County Sheriff department. These cops have guns.

He doesn't care.

I ask security if they can escort me out in case he comes back again.

They tell me…

“Don’t worry. He’s being processed,”

they tell me. They also tell me he will go to jail for a year at least for trespassing.

I still couldn't sleep though.

I still went on with my day today.

A manager talks to me and says, “next time just leave,” and I tell him, “Understood, yet at the same time, I was so flooded, so rattled, that I could not function the way I normally would in times of crisis – I simply did the best I could,” and yes, next time? I am out of there.

But I also told him, that, in life there will be this dangerous element and it was on some level, a positive experience. This is only because I had to force myself to move through the stress and cope – it was a lesson learned.

There will always be a bad person ready to go to all the ends of the world to kill you, or to hit you, or run a red light into you. We are not safe from them.

When I got home, on my own time, since I was a victim of a crime, I look to see if he’s still jailed.

No. No results.

I go to the state VINEline: he was released this morning.

While I don’t now exactly what exact code he was charged with, surely, I assume it was for mere trespassing. He probably argued that he had a right to be in the library.

This is all conjecture: the judge probably did not know exactly what happened at the library earlier.

They dismissed the charges.

Am I afraid of my life? Yes. But I know I can die in my sleep. I know I can die of heart failure and cancer too. I know that in 300 years no one will remember me.

No one will remember the menacing person with teardrop tats either in 300 years.

(Unless you’re Marcus Aurelius – or Jesus)

And on another level, I hope we remember Mary Oliver hundreds of years from now though.

I am hoping, with his one, dear wild life that he decides to stay the hell away from me.

“…But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do –
determined to save
the only life you could save.”

– The Journey, Mary Oliver