Monday, July 8, 2013

What Will You Do With This One Wild and Precious Life?

I just finished reading Golden by Jessi Kirby (which is holy crap amazing, everybody stop what you are doing and go get your hands on this book!) and a teacher writes this question on the board as a journal prompt for the seniors in his class from a poem by Mary Oliver:

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

It's a question that drives the characters in the novels to really reflect on what they want for their lives, and as the reader, you also can't help asking it of yourself. In the book, the teacher holds onto the senior's journals for ten years and then mails it to the people, kind of like a time capsule but better because you get to read the journal with all the straight up thoughts from your teenage self.

I just turned 31. I'm at the age where I'd be on the receiving end of the journal. So, curious, I pulled out my old journals that I've kept since high-school. They were not as revelatory as I’d hoped. Then again, I was a quiet kind of nerdy religious girl. There were no epic romances, or even making out in the back seats of cars. But I did feel things largely. I had epic moments, or at least they felt like it to me at the time, even if it was only because I snuck out of the library when I was supposed to be studying, but only so I could go walk alone in the park by the river. But I always had big plans for myself. I was going to travel all over the world and be a missionary and go sky-diving and climb mountains.

But then, part of the process of growing up is going through bitter disappointments, failure, and disillusionment. Those are kind of the things that actually force you to grow. There's good stuff too. Like finding a life partner and understand commitment and raising up little tiny humans to be full grown humans. But there is also illness and constraints and a need to pay the bills. There have been lean years where I couldn't manage more than getting by--physically, financially, and emotionally. And there have been fat years where my health was better and I would go tubing down the river and out for drinks with friends and got tattoos and drank gallons of coffee while I sat in chic coffeeshops writing books.

So part of me looks at this question about the one wild and precious life and thinks it's sentimental, unrealistic, and written by someone healthy. But the rest of me wants to sing and shout it from the rooftops. Because yes. Even with limitations, all we have is this one wild and precious life. It should be wild--unpredictable, spontaneous, changeable, not letting ourselves get caught in the rut of simply existing in the pattern of wake up, work, eat dinner with family, watch TV or read, then sleep. Where is the wildness? Even if I can't be wild in body by jumping out of planes like I wanted, I can still be wild in mind. Like those years I was in grad school where I could barely sleep at night because of all the ideas I was learning about in class. Like the times when a new story plot or characters take over my brain and all I want to do is write, write, write. And it should be precious, because oh Lord do not let us forget that this is all we have on this earth. This is life. Here, today. Like the rest of the poem says,

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

When we reach the end of our days we will lament giving up any single day to the mundane of simply 'getting by', marking the day off on the calendar with relief because all we want to do is sleep or get to the weekend or to that vacation. In the end, won't we want every precious day back that we wasted by sleep-walking through?


  1. Yeah. And "wildness" is, well, personal. So while we might all recognize a globe-trekking adventurer as living fully and wildly, why is that our standard? Small things are wild and full sometimes. In fact, perhaps life for the globetrekker is dry and empty, because the wildness is imbued by the soul into the experiences we have. I can see two people living in the same small town and never leaving the state, and one having lived a wild and precious life and the other having been small and limited.

    1. Totally Kacie - I love that you point out that from the outside, people can be living very similar lives, but one living wildly and one not. It's about engaging with your own life and realizing the preciousness of it while you are living it.