I am going to take a one-day break from the poetry of David Whyte to honor one of his best friends, the Irish writer and poet, John O’Donohue. Many grieved the early death of O’Donohue at the age of fifty-two, Whyte among them. They were anam cara, the Celtic word for “soul friend,” someone who accompanies you on your life’s journey, not just hand in hand, but heart and soul as well.
Whyte’s call to personal accountability has always felt like a challenge to me, direct and unambiguous, rigorous almost. I appreciate that, because that is often what is needed to make changes in our lives and habits, especially the big ones that ask us to go against our religious and cultural upbringing. But John O’Donohue had a different approach. His words are so loving, so soft and gentle, that even the most vulnerable part of you feels safe enough to speak up. O’Donohue’s work invites you to dance, not to discipline. Instead of “the questions that have no right to go away,” he simply holds up a mirror and asks you what you see.
At the End of the Day: A Mirror of Questions
What dreams did I create last night?
Where did my eyes linger today?
Where was I blind?
Where was I hurt without anyone noticing?
What did I learn today?
What did I read?
What new thoughts visited me?
What differences did I notice in those closest to me?
Whom did I neglect?
Where did I neglect myself?
What did I begin today that might endure?
How were my conversations?
What did I do today for the poor and the excluded?
Did I remember the dead today?
When could I have exposed myself to the risk of something different?
Where did I allow myself to receive love?
With whom today did I feel most myself?
What reached me today? How did it imprint?
Who saw me today?
What visitations had I from the past and from the future?
What did I avoid today?
From the evidence – why was I given this day?
For O’Donahue, that final question is the one that has no right to go away. He wanted his life to have meaning and purpose and that was the question that helped hold him accountable.
*This poem is a reinterpretation of the centuries-old Ignatian Examen, which asks its participants to reflect on the presence of God in their daily lives. O’Donohue was a Catholic priest for nearly two decades, before leaving the position to devote himself to his writing.