“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Mary Oliver is a badass. Her poetry makes my heart sing. I can literally feel it in my bones. She asks this question after a day outdoors, watching grasshoppers and communing with nature.
I’ll admit my bias—she is a fellow Cleveland girl. Anyone who can write like that growing up in Cleveland must have imagination. It has not always the most artistically inspiring city, what with the steel mills and river catching on fire in my formative years.
But my thoughts today really aren’t centered on Cleveland or Mary Oliver. She is just a delightful route to the question she poses—What DO you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
I’ve been writing about the “big” things lately–life has put me in musing mode yet again. Tersea, my coworker has stopped working early to pass on peacefully with her family over the next few weeks.
My sister undergoes surgery for thyroid cancer this week. Now she begins a new chapter, as another sister who had cancer continues to live her own new chapter replete with a gorgeous new grandbaby.
My sons’ father finished chemo. He begins anew yet again.
One life. Wild and precious.
It would be easy to feel the pressure of—what the hell am I doing with my life?
But this is not my first rodeo. The past few years have given me an infinitesimally low tolerance for drama and belly-button gazing.
I know what I’m doing with my life. I’m raising sons and supporting my friends and buying better red wine because I’m too damn old to have to tolerate the cheap stuff anymore. For starters.
What I know for sure is that the Cheerios moments—the small bits that seem mundane at the time—probably matter more than any article I’ve published or award I’ve won. Reading with my sons at night. Trips to the zoo. Picnic lunches.
When Tersea and I said goodbye via phone the other day, it was surreal. As we both choked up, there was no talk of the success of the marketing program we had helped to build. It pales in comparison to what was going on in parallel to that—two people forming a friendship, sharing experiences, figuring out life. With each conversation, no matter how brief, I felt we shared a bit of our souls with each other. You can do that even when just chatting casually over coffee. You know what I mean. You feel the qualitative difference when you’re with someone that gives in a real conversation. Someone who brings their authentic self to the table.
I am less and less in touch with friends who are sleepwalking through life. You don’t have to earn accolades but let’s not gossip about what someone else is doing wrong with her life. Or how she wronged you. Or—cue dramatic music—the “scandalous” behavior of someone else’s teenager. To me, all of the above is sleepwalking. Do you really have time for that shit? I think at one time I did, sadly. But not anymore. I’m no saint but I try to stay focused on the real, the impactful, the marrow of my life.
One life. Wild and precious. Your very own tabula rasa upon which to paint a masterpiece of your own making. I know a few people who have had to contemplate losing their canvas in the near future.
And upon its heels, “Let’s do this.”
I will be proceeding full steam ahead with a respectable red in one hand and a book of Mary Oliver poetry in the other. Probably sporting purple specs and the new hand-knit wrap I bought to keep me warm this winter. It is far from glam, but it is oh so real.
And real seems to be the only thing that matters much to me anymore.
37 Comments Add yours
“I am less and less in touch with friends who are sleepwalking through life.” This proved to be a very powerful line to me! Recent grad and feel like I am just on a different path than everyone else around me, maybe it’s more of me just not deeming the same things they see as important. From this point on I am to make sure I do not spend more than a minute sleepwalking. Such a great read, thank you!
Ah, a fellow old soul:). I am one and have a son who is the same. You don’t march in lockstep, do you? Bravo! You must have something unique to bring to the world . . . here’s to your journey to find it.
I’ve been reading more of Mary O. So sorry about your sister but hopefully it only means a better year ahead. As to the better wine: hear, hear.
Isn’t Mary Oliver divine? I just love every bit of her writing. And I hope as you are reading those words, you are sipping on a nice red :-).
That certainly would cap it. Sensitive to alcohol, tea will have to do. =)
Ooh–love me a good tea:). Shared some during holidays with my sister at her kitchen table and was perfectly content . . . wishing you the same moments of peace.
Terrific piece, Kristine! There is so much life in your words of loss, so much honesty about how and with whom you choose to live your life with. And of course, what those conversations will be about. I have not heard of Mary Oliver before but I will have to begin to read her words.
My prayers for all those in your life who are facing this dreaded disease. God Bless.
Thank you, George! The number of instances certainly has given me pause. But hopefully will also spur me to remember to live in the moment. Mary Oliver is addictive :-). In the most wonderful way. I hope you do pick up a book or two of hers!
I’ve recently discovered Mary Oliver, just read ‘Winter Hours’. And what I loved about her work is what I see in your words too – appreciation for life. I’ve done the climbing up the ladder, travelled a bit, pursued big dreams, but in the end I wonder if we all come back to the small things that matter most.
Isn’t her writing rich? I want her muse:). I think the wisest among us realize that it is not the trappings of life that matter in the end. But I’m still amazed at how many don’t grasp that lesson.
Your discussion of sleepwalking gave me pause, Kay. My mind flipped through women in my life, some sleepwalkers, some not. I thought of my life and periods of time when I sleepwalked, but always I caught myself and awakened. Thank you for another thought-provoking post.
Oh, we all do it, right? Sleepwalk. And then we look back, and wonder what took us so long to see that we were doing so :-). I guess it comes with being human.
Reblogged this on Wanda D. Jefferson and commented:
Thank you for the reblog!
Such a fortuitous essay! Someone else recently mentioned Mary Oliver to me (The Journey) as a means of providing some guidance on the path I should take re: writing/blogging.
This life is too short, and often too painful, to hedge our bets.
Thanks so much for sharing these inspirational and insightful words
I, I love it when that happens. The universe nudges us. We hear about something once and maybe don’t take note. The second time our ears perk up a bit. And for me, there is usually a third time. Which is when I know that it is time to truly pay attention to the message :-). Sounds like you will be reading Mary Oliver very soon. Thank you for your kind comments and for visiting my blog.
Yay! I get to use a line from Terminator… “I’ll be bach”
Glad you will be! And I’ll need to be checking out your blog:).
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your perspective, and also for introducing me to Mary Oliver’s gorgeous writing with her provocative question that you posed here.
And thank you for visiting and commenting so thoughtfully. I am glad this post resonated with you.
Good one. You know I agree with that (since you visited my post). It sounds like you’re moving in a direction you’re bound to explore with love more daily…and that is what counts! A couple of years ago I lost my oldest sister who was my dear friend and a mentor of sorts, then her husband, my brother-in-law. I live with heart disease (had it at 50)and hope to yet live as well as possible for a good amount of time. To tend well to how I live and what I give. And I also I appreciate Mary Oliver’s work–she is a joy, isn’t she? So many fine writers and dreamers to befriend us on the path. My best to you.
Your story is a true testament to living in the moment. We all could go anytime, and yet it only seems to really sink in for those who live with an ailment of some sort. Wishing you the best on our journey–may we find more Mary Olivers to light the way.
The good, bad and the ugly it doesn’t matter, celebrate all the small wins that come your way. Because when you add them all up you’ll smile. Thank you for this post.
Thanks for the kind comment and for visiting my blog. Small wins feel big many days:).
I loved this! Yay for hand-knit wraps, and pressing forward despite all of the obstacles placed in front of us. Saying a special prayer for those mentioned here. May God strengthen them and you in whatever place in this wild precious life you find yourselves. I will be thinking about my answer to the question!
I’ll second that huzzah for hand-knit wraps:). And supporting local artisans. And you–you are already doing amazing things with your one wild and precious life. You’re living authentically. Thank you for the prayers–I’m a big believer that they make a difference.
I love Mary Oliver’s quote, but your turn of phrase “the marrow of life” is one that will linger in my thoughts today. I don’t know why my heart is caught on old hurts this week, but your elegant nudge has helped me to look up from my own navel gazing to better see the beautiful moment before me.
You’ve done that so many times for me, Marie, with an eloquent turn of phrase.
And right there in that last line is your truth Kristine. All your life has shown you that, and at last you put yourself in a place of worth, that self love that we forever seek ‘out there’, and understand that what went before has great purpose. To bring you now to this place of accepting who you truly are within, and what does have true meaning in your life.
The gates have been opened…your journey is now yours to travel as you wish, create what has meaning and release what no longer does. And in that space something amazing will happen, a glow will begin within, a true acceptance of who you are will gently settle in your heart…and the strangest, but most beautiful one of them all, is the smile that suddenly breaks out…for no reason at all, filled with a beautiful sense of love. People will pass you by and think ‘what is she on’, and in truth it is an ingredient only found in one place on this whole world…the self love you have now discovered in your heart. Enjoy the journey…this gate leads to many more, each one more beautiful than the next 😀
Thank you, Mark. I still need to trust I will be able to continue to provide for my family. That is tough some days. But I try:).
Have faith in that little glow within Kristine. Trust me, it will guide you as long as you stand in your truth and listen to your heart, it will go exactly where you need to 😀
Cheers! I’ll be toasting you and this post as I open a decent bottle of (white) wine tonight. You had me at that line but by the time I got to “I am less and less in touch with friends who are sleepwalking through life” I was actually nodding. I’ve been feeling the same thing but hadn’t put it into words. So cheers again, to recognising and honouring the one wild and precious life.
Oh, thank you for that. I love response–whether it’s nodding or laughter, tears or just noodling on something. Cheers to you and your white wine this evening!
Real is everything to me, too…
I’m saddened to hear about your dear friend Tersea and I’m so sorry…
Here’s to life and its mysteries, to all that is fleeting and beautiful, wild and precious. Sending you a hug tonight, my friend. xxoo
I will toast to that–life and its mysteries. May we deal with them with grace, even if they don’t always reveal themselves to us. Thank you for the kind words, friend.