The Man Who Loves Olives

Here in the U.S. it’s Thanksgiving Day.

I am certainly thankful for those of you reading this, for your sustaining support of postings that I began while all but certain they would be short-lived, that I would not end up, three years down the road, wondering how I can keep coming up with anything when the discouragement remains chronic.

Today two painters came to do touch-up work at our house. We had a lot of laughs. One guy had been painting for 40 years; he was 56, and during this time he’d broken his back, his leg, his ankle, and had three knee operations.

He had done the original painting of the walls and baseboards, ceilings and trim. I thanked him, saying how we had talked about the terrific paint job that someone had done. He said how rare it is that he ever hears, “… ‘Thank you.’ And it means so much to me.”

No matter how bad it is, there are people like our painter, who respect and take pride in their craft, who get up and go to work, who, behind our scene, make our lives richer–and deserve not just a paycheck but our thanks.

The Man Who Loves Olives

Every day he goes to the store
at the end of his street and buys
a jar of olives. He pretends
they are from the south of France,
grown by a family who first planted
the trees just after the Romans had
cleared out, leaving the sun and the
light and the mistral. He imagines
the trees, twisted, full of gnarled
knots, rooted deeper than their
history. He knows how the trees,
even when broken, bent, cut back
to nothing but a sprig send
shoots back up into the hot, dry summer.
He knows how difficult it is to pick
a single olive, how they hold to the
tangle of branches, how the timing
has to be perfect or the lovely bitter
taste will fail. When he gets home,
he sits on his porch, twists off the cap,
picks out a single olive, black or green,
and drops it in his mouth, pausing,
letting the red clay in his imagination
open, letting the trees stand against
the wind. He bites down, smiles,
shudders, then pulls out another, the sun’s
light coming through his window,
the heat of the day rising like his past.

–Jack Ridl

Published in Waymark — Voices of the Valley.

My pal Jeffrey Munroe’s hot new Reading Buechner is out and already a Best Seller! And it’s the Number 1 book in the country in literary criticism. He is a wonderful man. He is funny and bright. He knows his bourbon. There are many reasons to love him, and to love Buechner, so we recommend picking up both authors and settling in for a great winter read.

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Visit Reader’s World or Hope-Geneva Bookstore in Holland, The Bookman in Grand Haven, the Michigan News Agency in Kalamazoo, and The Book Nook & Java Shop in Montague to find Jack’s books in West Michigan.

Jack’s page on Amazon.

Click here to subscribe to receive Jack’s poems and news in your inbox.

Click here for Jack’s entire collection, In Time — poems for the current administration.

Click here to watch Jack’s TedX talk.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Kindness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Everyday Forgiveness.

Jack at Fetzer Institute on Empathy.

Jack Ridl at Fetzer Institute on Suffering and Love.

Beyond Meaning with Jack Ridl, C3: West Michigan’s Spiritual Connection

24 thoughts on “The Man Who Loves Olives

  1. Good for you for saying thank you! Isn’t it amazing what those two words convey? And how rarely they are used? So, my friend, THANK YOU for all you do for me and so many others. Happy Thanksgiving! Mary


    • And YOU know how I thank you for sustaining my spirit and helping
      me believe that what I try to do matters.
      You bring such important good into the world.

  2. Thank you indeed, dear Jack, for each word you make richer with your tender wise heart. Thank you again.


    A Traditional Foods Enthusiast

  3. Jack- you are going have me reading poetry regularly! This spoke to me so kindly as an ode to my dear Bill Galligan— I could so see him every line. I suppose I will see him in everything— but this just seemed particularly appropriate. Thank you

    Sent from my iPhone


    • We have been grief stricken all weekend. I tried to get in touch with you.
      We thought of you immediately with heartsick care.
      Grief ambushes. Please feel our comfort and our hope
      that comfort comes time and again.
      Oh do we care.

  4. Love this post, Jack. My love of olives is such that I ‘could’ be this olive loving man. Namaste from Tucson!

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. Happy Thanksgiving to you, too, Jack and Julie. I shall check your friend’s book on Buechner since I have taught his fiction and nonfiction in my senior seminar class. Stephen

  6. Jack, I just read your post, which included your conversation with the repairman who had worked in your home. It meant a lot to me because it reminded me that I had realized many years ago how important it was to thank people for whatever they had done for me, for Elaine and me, or for the students in the schools where I worked.

    I try not to say “Thank you” casually because I truly do appreciate whatever is done for me or for Elaine and me.

    In that spirit, thank you for sending your poem today.

    And Happy Thanksgiving to Julie and to you.


    Sent from my iPhone


  7. I never miss one of your posts and yet I’ve never written but reading that wonderful poem today on Thanksgiving—saying thank you, Jack. You have made many a day brighter for me, for my family.

    • Mary Jo,
      Thank you for this moving message. To know that you are out there
      sustains me and the project. Really really does
      Ever thankful for you

  8. Jack, I love this!! The story of the man who did your painting – I’m with you- saying thank means a lot! The poem put me right back to a place in Albania where I saw and admired the olive trees – the strong, rugged beauty, the intricate weaving of the branches intriguing my mind, I stood in awe and admiration.

    I love trees. Sad for me and my neighbors, the man next door took down about 35 beautiful Maples, Cherry, and Oak – large, healthy trees from our little woods in the city – to build a house he didn’t need. I wept. Blessings, my admired writer!! Kathleen Sent from my iPhone


    • That you wept says everything about your great good soul.
      How about all the latest books about trees. There are many.
      It’s fascinating and moving how they communicate with one another.
      One novel is The Overstory. Braiding Sweetgrass (Not so much
      tree centered but with that sensibility) is also one
      I wouldn’t be surprised would matter to you
      What a joy that we connect with the awe of the olive tree!!!
      And of trees themselves.
      Thank you for sending this loving message, Kathleen

  9. A poem almost like a mass; almost because it is like a mass should be. No priest waving his/her arms in whatever fashion they are supposed to, but concentration upon essentials: reverence, dignity, striving for the good. Hence, a poem like a piece of advice for mankind. “The buddha is in a shard” a Buddhist saying goes. And an echo touching us from where essence may stem from can sound through a poem. To my knowledge the name “Cheyenne” means “Menschenwesen” in German and, maybe, something like “humans” in English. Your poem gives us something the Cheyenne probably meant.
    Please take my thanks for what I see as your extended hand with its donation.

    • Dear Reinhard,
      And take my thanks for your exceptional kindness of perception. You enrich
      my own perceptions by extending a poem into interconnected realities that
      I would not see without your remarkable vision. It’s snowing here; my
      gratitude is in every flake.

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