“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.