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One wild and precious life

This hasn’t been a good week for our little town. We have lost a lot; we have lost promise and a part of our shared future. I would like to be able to offer something pithy and hopeful and comforting, but I am fresh out of all that stuff. I have been reduced to reading poetry instead.

One of the things I’ve been reading is Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day.” At the end of it, she asks,

“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?”

Last Thursday, I had to put that one down and walk away. I went home and graded quizzes for a couple of hours, until my eyes wouldn’t focus again. I picked it up again today, because her question is a good one, and because the answer to it should not be, “Sit in front of the computer playing Mah Jongg and eating jelly beans,” which is what “grading quizzes” looks like to the uninitiated.

A Web site called The Day Zero Project offers a challenge that might help answer the question. Its goal is to help you do 101 things in 1001 days, kind of a bucket list with a more definite ending. After all, 1001 days is just a little over three years. A person, even one who finds Mah Jongg entertaining, can do a lot of things in three years; some of them might as well be intentional.

The first thing I discovered is that it’s harder than you think to come up with 101 things. The first 50 are easy, because these are the ones that have been simmering in the back brain for years – go to Scotland, go back to school, blog like you mean it, finish a quilt, learn to play Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition, turn Memaw’s recipes into a book for the fam, and so forth.

But then it gets harder. The Day Zero project offers suggestions from other people’s lists, (and will, in fact, tell you if other people want to do what you’re doing, although it won’t tell you WHO is longing to do children’s parties in a Big Bird costume). This is only somewhat helpful, insofar as I do not want to learn to knit, jump out of an airplane, create a Twitter account, or redecorate my den. No one really wants to memorize Trollope; they’re just coming up with something pretentious to impress people.

(I also don’t believe the people who want to hike Mongolia, read “War and Peace,” meet Laura Bush, learn to speak Urdu and spend a month in a yurt.)

The Day Zero folks publish a list of the top 20 goals for all of the people who participate in the project. The top five are, in order: get married, visit all seven continents, have a baby, see the Northern Lights and buy a house.

Setting aside for a moment the arresting idea that seeing the aurora borealis is on a par with getting married, having a baby, or buying a house, it is worth noting that “fall in love” comes in at number six. Number 15, for the record, is “get a tattoo.”

I do not want a tattoo. I am done with baby-having. “In love” is my default position. What do I plan to do with my one wild and precious life?

This morning, I hit the pause button pretty hard for a friend who needed an ear. I did not “do” anything; she does not need me to “do” anything – she needs me to shut up and listen. A lot of us, this week, have needed to tell our stories, to remind ourselves that we love and are loved. I know a lot of us are thankful for those ears out there, the ones who didn’t “do” anything, didn’t offer a single platitude, didn’t try to fix it, but just listened.

So that’s my new Day Zero number one project – listen. I will be a pair of ears and a sympathetic heart. It is not as exciting as skydiving or as exotic as riding in a Venetian gondola, but it’s not a bad use for a (shared) wild and precious life.

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