Our friend Thad Holcombe’s retirement party today drew hundreds of people deeply touched by Thad’s work and life. Students from recent years and long ago, family, fellow organizers, ministers, teachers and others spoke of his legacy today. Here is my poem that I shared at the retirement festivities, held of course at Ecumenical Christian Ministries, a place almost synonymous with Thad after his 22 years of stirring the pot (and the heart) in our community.
When the Time Comes
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
~ Mary Oliver, “In Blackwater Woods”
You let go because it’s just another way to exhale
and you know how much the universe loves a vacuum
it can fill in the next inhalation. You’ve held the work
of your life against your bones with just enough lightness
that the small fire in the center of the sky lantern
can ignite flight. Then the horizon takes what’s released
beyond, and you go back inside to begin again
the daily tasks of daylight and love.
How many conversations composed mostly
of time, listening, waiting for the flock of goldfinch
to sweep sunlight into the moment? How many meetings
in a big room lined with northern windows and stories?
How much holding steady to whatever faith is:
a balance of weather and garden, schedule and surprise
folded in time’s arms? How long the list,
how quick the gait, how hot the coffee, how late
or how early it all cycled through you again?
Now there’s just the late spring, green saturated with green,
lilacs finally back for their week-long dance,
the quiet before the ending, the filled large room
with those who love you or barely know you, all
carrying stories and hot tea, hugs and incredulity.
Then stepping outside, an old trick after days of cloud
lifting just enough to shine what’s shone through you
directly on you now that the time has come.