Essay: ‘A Normal Day’ by Mary Jean Irion

Photo: George Digalakis

“A normal day! Holding it in my hand this one last moment, I have come to see it as more than an ordinary rock. It is a gem, a jewel. In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands and faces into the earth and remembered this. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this. In time of loneliness and separation, people have stretched themselves taut and waited for this. In time of hunger, homelessness, and wants, people have raised bony hands to the skies and stayed alive for this.

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so.

One day I shall dig my nails into the earth or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky, and want more than all the world for your return. And then I will know what now I am guessing: that you are indeed a common rock and not a jewel, but that a common rock made of the very mass substance of the earth in all its strength and puts a gem to shame.

~ Excerpts of Yes, A Mosaic of Meditations by Mary Jean Irion, 1970.

Mary Jean Irion is a poet and essayist whose career includes nine years as columnist in United Church Herald and ten years as Founder and First Director of The Writers’ Center at Chautauqua Institution, New York. A Fellow of The Society for the Arts, Religion and Contemporary Culture based in NYC, Irion has published four books: From the Ashes of Christianity (J. B. Lippincott, 1968); Yes, World: A Mosaic of Meditation (Richard W. Baron, 1970); Holding On (poems, Heatherstone Press,1984); and She-fire: A Safari Into the Human Spirit (a poetic armchair travel narrative, Trafford, 2012). Currently, she teaches poetry at Willow Valley Communities in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband, Paul, a retired minister/seminary professor/Hospice pioneer.

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