This Wild and Precious Life

February 8, 2016

Photo was taken by me, but original print is from House of Belonging LLC
on Etsy -- you can find listing here
For Christmas this year, I asked Tim for a print for our home. It features a quote from Mary Oliver that I saw Shauna Niequist’s mention on social media one day. I love her books and her taste, generally, and this was no different. In beautiful shades of blue, with a contrasting white text, it reads: 

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

I love the sentiment but I’m curious and, with Google at my fingertips, I decided to look up the context. Who is this Mary Oliver, and why would her challenge strike such a chord? 

It turns out – if you don’t know, as I didn’t know – that’s she’s a successful poet, and that this is one of her poems, which I found at the Library of Congress:

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?

—Mary Oliver

I still love the quote – but I love the other questions posed, too. What else should I have done? Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Last week, a friend and colleague of my husband’s passed away unexpectedly at age 45. I knew him from work meetings and was charmed by his kind nature, Southern drawl, and big laugh. The sudden nature of his passing was a shock, on many levels -- because for as much as my husband mourned his friend, the gravity of the situation struck a chord with us. How easily it could be my husband, or me, or one of our children. A heart attack, a car accident. A diagnosis, a fluke. How easily we take this life for granted.

I want to know -- as this poem says so well -- how to pay attention. I want to know how to be idle and blessed.

It's a talent, I fear -- one I don't always have the patience to master. It's so easy for me to get caught up in the whirlwind of life that I forget to savor the quiet, precious moments.

So that's my challenge, this week, to you and to myself. To savor. To notice the details. To love with abandon, rather than miserly handing out time and attention to those who need and deserve it. To learn the fine art of being idle and blessed. 

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

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