It may be tempting to think of this Wendell Berry poem as only for “people of a certain age.” But that would be a mistake, or so it seems to me. The poem is not first and foremost about aging and dying. It’s about generosity, one of the most life-giving of all virtues.
Sabbaths – 1993, I
No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.
Generosity does not require material abundance. When I think back on the many people who have been so generous toward me, I never think of money or “things.” Instead, I think of the way they gave me their presence, their confidence, their affirmation, support, and blessing — all gifts of “self” that any of us can give.
And where does generosity come from? Perhaps from another life-giving virtue, the one called gratitude. When I take the time to breathe in my life and breathe out my gratitude for the gifts I’ve been given, only one question arises: “How can I keep these gifts alive?”
I know only one answer: “Become a giver yourself, pass your gifts along, and do it extravagantly!” As Wendell Berry says, “Every day you have less reason/not to give yourself away.”