Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? —Mary Oliver
As children, we make discovery after discovery; every day brings something new; and we learn, we delight, we find joy in one wonderful new experience after another. As we grow older, the pace of discovery slows down, but we still have many opportunities to make new and exciting finds, and open up our lives.
Perhaps some spring, we decide to plant a few flowers, and suddenly find ourselves intrigued with the world of gardening, plotting grand new schemes of beauty for the back yard. Or perhaps (like my husband) we might inherit an old clock and become passionate about collecting and repairing antique timepieces. I was in my early forties when I re-discovered writing—poetry at first— and found my life enriched as I never imagined. In the process, I also discovered writers I’d never heard of. There were the many fine Nebraska poets—Bill Kloefkorn, Ted Kooser, Marge Saiser, and more. I learned about nationally known writers like Sharon Olds and Marge Piercy. And then there was Mary Oliver.
Oh, Mary Oliver, how her poetry sings! “…the green fists of the peonies are getting ready to break my heart,” she wrote, and “there is only one question: how to love this world.” Mary Oliver is gone from us now, but in her life and her writing life, she did indeed love the world in one dazzling poem after another. Her subjects were the mystery and wonder of nature, spiritual seeking, and praise for all that surrounded her—“the poppies, send[ing] up their orange flares,” and the blacksnake with “his long ladder of muscle. Every day brought a remarkable new find—and the opportunity to write about it.
Not long ago, I was under a lot of stress. I had a dental emergency and what with the need to spend extra time at the dentist’s office, was behind on several projects. I ran around the house, worried and harried, when a sudden movement out the window caught my attention. It was a luna moth, hovering around the honeysuckle. I stopped, took a breath and felt a calmness move over me. A few days later, just as night was moving in, I heard the hoot-hooting of a great horned owl. It was close, right outside our door. I called to my husband, and for the next thirty minutes, we sat outside and listened to the deep voice of the owl in a tree above us, calling out in the dark.
As Mary Oliver writes, we do indeed have “one wild and precious life,” and the question is, what do we do with it. Maria Shriver, in an interview with her for “O” magazine, asked Mary how she would answer that question, specifically “What do you think you have done with your one wild and precious life?” And her answer (in addition to delighting in the world) —“I used up a lot of pencils.” I love that! Using up our pencils and pens, and our boundless imaginations—loving the world.
This essay originally appeared in the Writing in Community Blog, a blog of encouragement and inspiration for all writers.