Sunday, February 17, 2013


At a dinner party last night I was seated beside a doctor who specializes in palliative care at Children's Hospital in Seattle, and one of the other guests asked about what kind of awareness dying children have of their own fate, and he said that often they know and accept this before their parents do, and he's known a child as young as six to have a conversation with his/her mother and father to help ease their oncoming sorrow.

We all took turns reading a poem (or singing a song, playing the guitar), and this doctor chose to read this poem, by Billy Collins:

Picnic, Lightning

It is possible to be struck by a
meteor or a single-engine plane while
reading in a chair at home. Pedestrians
are flattened by safes falling from
rooftops mostly within the panels of
the comics, but still, we know it is
possible, as well as the flash of
summer lightning, the thermos toppling
over, spilling out on the grass.
And we know the message can be
delivered from within. The heart, no
valentine, decides to quit after
lunch, the power shut off like a
switch, or a tiny dark ship is
unmoored into the flow of the body's
rivers, the brain a monastery,
defenseless on the shore. This is
what I think about when I shovel
compost into a wheelbarrow, and when
I fill the long flower boxes, then
press into rows the limp roots of red
impatiens -- the instant hand of Death
always ready to burst forth from the
sleeve of his voluminous cloak. Then
the soil is full of marvels, bits of
leaf like flakes off a fresco,
red-brown pine needles, a beetle quick
to burrow back under the loam. Then
the wheelbarrow is a wilder blue, the
clouds a brighter white, and all I
hear is the rasp of the steel edge
against a round stone, the small
plants singing with lifted faces, and
the click of the sundial as one hour
sweeps into the next. 


  1. I like this poem. You have much more interesting dinners than I do. Is the nearness of death what makes life so sweet?

  2. Deb, a close friend of mine just lost someone (unexpectedly) very dear to him, and it's had a profound impact on how he approaches every day. It's amazing to observe this in someone, and damn, I've certainly had more than enough encounters with it myself.

    I'm glad you stopped by!