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Wild and Precious Checklists

Updated: Jul 28, 2019

On January 17th, American poet Mary Oliver passed away. I will not pretend I am well versed on her work, but the more I read, the more I read, the more I read.

Here is one that touched me...

This poem, A Summer Day, feels like a call to action. What WILL I do with my ONE wild and precious life? Am I doing enough? What IS enough? Did I know I only had one this whole time and I've wasted all this time scrolling? Thoughts that make your mind reel and question the marks you are leaving on the earth.

Now breathe.

As most poets do, Oliver takes you here only to show you the way back. I may have "cheated." This tweet about this poem was my official introduction to her work. I had the inside scoop before I realized it. I was unburdened by these questions because I had the answers, "The question out of context could appear to be about achieving more — it’s not."


What WILL I do with my ONE wild and precious life?

Well, perhaps today I will take a walk and notice things.

And later this evening make a checklist of my homework, weekly to-dos, groceries and life goals.

Tomorrow morning I will do a sun-salutation & lock myself behind a desk to learn things.

Things I really do want to learn.

At lunch time I might sit outside, with the hot pavement under me and cool breeze all around me.

I will jot notes and doodle slowly, carefully. Ink leaking as gravity pulls us in and out of attention. My Mother taught me many things, like how to draw the perfect clock and that smudges can be art too.

A day dream will take me back outside, listening to traffic with the sun in my eyes.

When I get to the grocery store I will take my time, and let squeaky cart wheels drive routes around me. Picking up fallen items, and finding their rightful place in the maze.

I will go back for the items I forgot and put back oreos that I really don't need. In their place I'll pick up ice cream, because I do need that.

As I set home, I wonder how the sun doodles streaks of gold from behind clouds. I park my car and tilt my head back, gazing through a pollen spotted sun roof.

And then I will go inside, set to work on my checklists. Some boxes can never be fully ticked.


If I just listen to the last two lines: "Tell me, what is it you planned to do with your one wild and precious life?" I lose myself in a web of achievement vs failure. But if I delve deeper, I notice moments of growth. Everyday and every moment may not be wondrous. Each step I take may not be glamorous. Achievement doesn't have to mean the same thing to me as it does to you. But giving myself the opportunity to check boxes, no matter the task, feels like a job well done.

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