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Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Facebook has been asking me this, regularly and italically, since the recent death of poet Mary Oliver, who penned those lines as the conclusion of her poem "Summer Day".
I spent at least 15 minutes of my wild and precious life on a summer day scrolling and clicking to remind myself just how much I like her poems. Which wasn't perhaps particularly wild and precious use of my time. Still, I love it. It's a provocation. Specific, weighty. It sticks.
Assuming that life is wild and precious bears baring, because so often I treat my life as if it is comparatively mundane, expendable, boring and busy-able. I get bogged down. I do that thing I absolutely swore I'd never do, vicariously hogging my children's lives while off they go, their wild and precious selves. I wasn't planning on that. But there went my heart.
And of course, it's easy to get caught up in smaller plans. The question of what are you planning to ... going to ... have to ... need to do today? The question that, if I'm not careful, puts me in a spin cycle of lists that never actually end. Because there's what do you plan to do? And there's what do you plan to do? Because even having the privilege to ask myself about long-term plans makes for a wildly different time. Make a plan, make a shower curtain, make it through the supermarket, make a week's worth of lunches, make footsteps, make a mark, make someone happy, make art.
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? reminds me of one of the memories told at Trevor Chinn's life celebration a few weeks ago, how he used to say "there's this much to do" (holding hands out super wide), "and there's this much time" (holding hands close and cramped). Which makes me want to run into days, full of caffeine and fresh air, arms open to the gale force of things.
Never mind laying out flat and crunching back in with my hands on a pool float like all the other lemmings (like I watched on Seven Sharp last week, like I had nothing more wild and precious to do, like there is anything wild and precious about talk-talk TV), like it's some kind of viral challenge: I'm going to lay down the wild and precious challenge. Ask people randomly at a lull in the conversation, "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?". Each time I meet a new student volunteer this year, I'll fold my arms and look straight in their eyes: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?". I'll use it as my email sign off. Not as a quote after my name and deets and that, but actually, instead of "Kind regards", I'll write: "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?".
Sample answers from people I've asked in person include: "What are you talking about?" "What?" "What are you on?". Because it's not a comfortable question. It's about purpose, not surface. It's pretty much straight to the heart. And if I'm asking myself, it's easy to make the lists, the lunch and the same sarcastic diversions. But for what it's honestly worth, I plan to read, write, make things on stages, go outside in bare feet, in water, in the garden, in the wild of things. I plan to wear my awesomest stuff, not save it. I plan to listen to the kids, to love my family on lengthier strings. Use fewer exclamation marks. Speak out and up about the bad stuff. Understand all the science. Sing along to all the songs. I plan to walk tall. I'm getting carried away by a poem. It happens all the time.
Of course, there's that other well known poem/poet quote about plans, from that nice man Robbie Burns, that The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley. And I have no doubt that I'm going to forget my wild and preciousness under the gley of the daily grind. So I also plan to have a section in my every day lists for something wild and something precious. That'll fix it. Amping up the poetry of life. One to-do list at a time.