Sunday, January 14, 2007


The Summer Day
by Mary Oliver

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean--
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

On the advice of my friend, Gannet Girl, I googled this poem by Mary Oliver. I was immediately struck by its beauty and at the depth of connection and understanding friends who have never met and don't "really" know each other share. I am indebted. This was a balm to my soul, and I recognized so much of myself in it.

"Tell me, what else should I have done?" This seems to be one of the big questions I've had to face lately. I confess freely I'm not a strategist. I'm a terrible chess player. I lack the ability to see where actions will lead. I've been delighted by many of the things that have come my way by following my gut instincts as opposed to planning every move, and many have caused me pain. I followed my heart into marriage with a man I loved deeply, a man whose heart and mind I admired, a man who lost himself as well as me along the way. I've tried literally everything I know to make things better, and they haven't worked. My very survival depends on changing things. I know this. And I know that mourning what has been lost is only appropriate and necessary.

All the time and financial management books I've read are haunting me. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. I don't know how many times I've read those words. I know there is some truth in them, but it's a truth with a lowercase "t." We can plan all we want and still get thrown surprises that shake our plans to the very core. When the trembling stills, I find myself learning again the ebb and flow of control within the universe. I hold some control, I do, yet I'd be deceiving myself if I didn't admit to the recognition that I'm part of a greater tide, the inevitable flow of a river to the sea.

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

Maybe I wander too much. Maybe I should measure my steps with greater care and look farther down the road to see where they may lead me. Should I squint and narrow my eyes to better see what is on the horizon or gaze in wonder at what is in my hand? I don't know.

I do know that this poem reminded me of God's response to Job. I am but a speck in a large creation that only God understands. I can compare myself to the grasshopper, a creature both strange and beautiful in its complexity and seeming simplicity. I do only what I know, which isn't much. I know that ultimately, I don't really know how to pray. I just trust that God understands what my soul pours out, and despite everything God loves me dearly. Such a miracle, such a gift. When I don't know what I will do with my life, that love is there, a love that will not shield me from the pain of living, a love that knows that this life is precious and wild, and everything, even the bitter, contributes to the ineffable, glorious mystery of it all.

Tonight, I am creature. I am creator, forming my life with each breath. I am hurting. I am at peace. I don't know what all I will do my life, but I know that I will live it with heart and mind open, seeking God, seeking wisdom, seeking to understand the tide that carries me along. It is all that I know to do.

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Blogger Gannet Girl said...

I'm so glad it spoke to you.

January 16, 2007 7:16 AM  

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