So it was a great pleasure to see him earlier this month in person again, at his home, as we used to do. No one looks as good on Zoom as they do in person, and Zoom hugs are … nonexistent.

The overarching topic of all of our conversations is the spiritual life, how to deepen it and how to share it. We talk about all the ordinary things that happen in our lives as well as books, poems and poets, movies, things we’ve seen in nature, etc.

We had a great catchup and I realized that for me the best thing about it was feeling fully received by my friend. What I mean by that is that not only did he understand me at a deep level, he welcomed what I had to offer, and made me feel that my thoughts and perceptions were valuable to him.

He believes in me so much, in fact, that he was trying — as he has done before — to persuade me to work up a talk about Mary Oliver (my favorite poet) that I could present in public. I have resisted doing it, in part because I’m not sure I have anything especially insightful to say, and in part because I’m shy, and also because developing such a presentation would be work.

And finally, because to do so would mean taking a risk.

But apparently my friend planted a seed, because our conversation, and his attempt to persuade me, have remained in my mind. I began to think about other things I’ve read recently and other conversations I’ve had about the fact that relationship and self-sharing are the essential nature of God. And if creation, in particular, humanity, partakes of God’s nature, then relationship must be an essential part of our nature as well.

Perhaps it is through self-sharing — letting others see who we really are — that we realize our true selves and become who we were created to be. Maybe this is how we grow and become more alive.

And then I thought of a poem by Mary Oliver called “Goldenrod” that speaks to this idea. Oliver makes this common late summer wildflower a symbol of humble self-giving.

She describes the palette of goldenrod, “saffron and orange and pale gold,” and its place in the human world, “sneeze-bringers and seed bearers,/ full of bees and yellow beads and perfect flowerlets.”

Next she evokes the flower’s humility, ostensibly playing down the plant’s significance but in fact naming its importance, at least to the narrator. “I don’t suppose/ much notice comes of it, except for honey,/ and how it heartens the heart with its/ blank blaze./ I don’t suppose anything loves it, except, perhaps,/ the rocky voids/ filled by its dumb dazzle.

Simply by being, the goldenrod “heartens the heart.” With the phrases “blank blaze” and “dumb dazzle,” Oliver points up the fact that the flower doesn’t say anything and doesn’t “mean” anything, except for its effect on the observer.

As for the effect on herself, the poet says “… I found myself on their straw hillsides,/ citron and butter colored,/ and was happy, and why not?”

She goes on to compare the goldenrod to human beings, saying “… what has consciousness come to, anyway, so far,/ that is better than these light-filled bodies?/ … they bend as though it was natural and godly to bend,/ they rise in a stiff sweetness,/ in the pure peace of giving/ one’s gold away.”

The goldenrod, which does not partake of consciousness as we know it, is nevertheless “natural and godly,” able to welcome the bees, bend in the wind and knock the poet sideways with its unearned, unworked-for beauty.

Maybe sharing my love for this poet and her wonderful work is a way to “give (my) gold away” and to enjoy the satisfaction of being received.

Republican Journal editor Sarah Reynolds is a longtime employee of Courier Publications.