Wild and Precious Life

“She’s my favorite!” Rachel Martin said of Mary Oliver three days ago on NPR in discussing a new poetry book celebrating poets. She’s my favorite too and oddly, in the last week, I have heard three women including a yoga instructor, an author of a book on untapped skills, and now Rachel Martin talk about this American poet and winner of the National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize with veneration. It brought me back to her poem The Summer Day. When I interviewed for my current position I start my presentation to PPEM with a quote from this poem, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” This phrase is inspirational, full of possibility, and reminds us that we have something unique to contribute, a personal mission. The larger poem contemplates mortality and simple pleasures while inviting us to step out of our day-to-day to see the larger picture. I see this as my job for the department. I step out of the focus on my own research and pay attention to the larger picture of how our department fits within the college, the university, and our disciplines. I am conscious that our department can be inspired to reach its potential.

The value of working on something meaningful and fulfilling comes alive any time we are reviewing our plans for the coming year. We are now in the season when the faculty review their accomplishments for the last year and goals for the coming year with me. I ask, what is it you plan to do with this one year of your one wild and precious life and did your work this year take you closer to your ultimate goal and mission? Hopefully the work we did last year will inspire us to move forward to ensure that our choices continue to be something worthy of our limited time.

As spring begins tomorrow, I am contemplating how to accomplish all that I want to do this year while balancing time for hearth, heart, and health. Another rich and rewarding quarter year has come and gone. Each quarter adds up to a year and those slowly but surely add up to a lifetime. Now is the time to decide what will we do this spring to add to our “wild and precious life”?

Happy Spring Everyone,

The Summer Day

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 down 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?

—Mary Oliver


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