Our Wild & Precious Life

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver secured her spot in history with these two lines in “The Summer Day”. Frequently quoted, often posted to Instagram and Tumblr feeds, tattooed on the backs of young women… it’s a question that is always asked and rarely answered with any conviction. What are we going to do with this lovely gift we’ve been given? And will we know what before we’ve already lived it?

I think this line in particular is often misquoted. That is, used as a way to motivate us to do and see more, not to be simple. But when the line is coupled back together with the original poem, we find that Oliver is not concerned with success or adventures, but with stopping to revel in the small things. The teeny, tiny things we look over when we are aspiring, hustling, and planning.

The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Why this poem now? Why share it? Quite honestly, I was feeling overwhelmed this week. And then a book reminded me of Oliver and her patience with life, “Tell me, what else should I have done?” And I thought, I can’t be the only one feeling this way this week.

I want to remind myself that I don’t have to push myself to the limit every single day. I want to remind you of that too. I find that as I get older moments pass even faster. Days go and I can’t even discern them from the others. Months go by and I find myself asking “Where did they go? Can it really be ___ already?”

I’m sick of losing my days, my weeks, my months to a jam packed schedule of to-do lists, goals, plans… Don’t get me wrong, I adore the goals I have for myself, I love hard work and being busy. But it is when I find myself being busy for the sake of being busy, or filling my days to the brim because I can, that I start to lose myself and the beauty that is living.

Sometimes I am the happiest curled up with my little dog on the couch– no technology, no book, just the sound of both of us breathing. I love to leave my phone at home and just walk the city. Letting the pace of others move me forward like a tide. I go into a meditative state when I walk. Problems wash away, new ideas come, my heart relaxes, and my breath comes easier. I love being outdoors, I love staring into the clouds, I love, and this real, studying plants and trees and staring into the perfect and intricate shapes they make. I love these things and then I forget to give them any time. The time I need to be happier.

I am resolving to live in the way that Mary Oliver suggests–by being idle and blessed and stroll through the fields. Maybe by appreciating the moments for what they are, instead of in constant pursuit of the future, or in constant fear of the past, I will be able to slow time down a little and stay young a little longer. Maybe.



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