Ursula Gone

IMG_E2462In the last letter she wrote me, back in September, 2017, she knew she had to harbor her strength and described herself as being “stove-in.” That dear friend with whom we had traveled, the four of us, to so many corners of the earth, recognized we probably wouldn’t be together again. This picture was taken at the bottom of the world, aboard the Terra Australis, at one of many meals we were served. It’s formal compared to so many other images that flood our minds now, but her wonderful smile is there.
She ended that last letter this way:

“ …Here’s the litany.  But it’s for the bad hour.  You won’t need it, out at sea, with forests going by and glaciers looming ahead!

xo u

A Litany for the Bad Hour


I am the desert
I am the sea

I am the high hills
and the river in the valley


I am rain
and the earth that drinks it

I am sunlight
and the leaves that live on it

I am stars
and the nothing between them


I am what I have always been
and what I will always be

(I have not seen this published anywhere else, so I will add this, for her:
© Ursula K. Le Guin, 2018)

She wrote it just this way, with no punctuation. When I found it, looking back over her letters the day after she died, it came with her voice, almost a comfort. The forests and the glaciers she refers to in her note were ones we had viewed together, and I had a sense of continuity and blessedness that will persist for good.

unnamed (4)Tom and I were aboard a Holland-America ship from Seattle to Alaska and back, a trip we had made with Ursula and Charles twenty-five years before. Then, we left from Vancouver, B.C., going up and back by the inland passage. It was the first of those many trips, and I think confirmed our feeling that we did well together.

I didn’t realize until much later that these embroideries Ursula was inventing and making during those trips would come to be mine, one by one.

In the writing group I’m with this term, our task this week is to discuss chant and mantra. Ursula’s Litany for the Bad Hour is now in my head and runs itself whenever I pause and “go inside.” So it becomes a mantra, given, and for any hour.

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