Have I lived enough?
Have I loved enough?
Have I considered Right Action enough, have I come to any
Have I experienced happiness with sufficient gratitude?
Have I endured loneliness with grace?
I say this, or perhaps I’m just thinking it.
Actually I probably think too much.
Then I step out into the garden,
Where the gardener, who is said to be a simple man,
is tending his children, the roses.
- The Gardener, Mary Oliver
This poem helps remind me of two principles of good living. One, some questions will never have definite answers. Two, spend time taking care of things that take care of you.
When I first read “The Gardener” I assumed the gardener was an idiot. The phrase “simple man,” in the context of the poem, lends to the idea that the gardener has no concerns beyond his roses; because he does not have the mental capacity to do so.
After many readings, I realized Mary Oliver is in awe of this gardener. Simple, though he may be described, he cares for his roses with the same love an affection that a parent shows to their child. In his actions, he exudes peace.
Lynyrd Skynyrd expands on Mrs. Oliver’s idea with their 1973 classic Simple Man. The chorus goes:
And be a simple kind of man
Oh, be something you love and understand
Baby be a simple kind of man
Oh, won't you do this for me, son, if you can
It is an absolutely brilliant song, one of my favorites. I find it deeply moving because it is a lament. The mother practically begs her son to be a simple kind of man. To be a man who lives slowly, who does not covet, and who loves deeply.
The more I listen to this song, the more I am convinced that the mother is dying, and that she is trying to impart the most important lessons she has learned before she passes. She will not be there to give him love, resources, and comfort. He will have to find them on them own, but she does not intend to die without providing a map to those things.
The idea is simple living, simple actions, simple pleasures, and simple thoughts.