On Sunday, as I frantically packed dishes and stemware in the kitchen of my Minneapolis apartment, I mentally ticked off my to-do list over and over. As my available time shortened and my anxiety grew, I considered what items might be dropped from the list. Always, it seems, what I hope to ideally do and what it turns out I can humanly do are vastly different. One item that could have been dropped was making a brief trip up Eat Street to the alley between Little Tijuana and The Black Forest Inn. Instead, I stopped in the middle of wrapping my grandmother’s pink depression glass water goblets and grabbed my car keys (which was a compromise, as I had hoped to bike).
One of my cherished activities over the two years I lived in Minneapolis was my daily photo project. I had a few photos taken while running last errands that morning that I could have used for my final post in the project. But the one I had my heart set on was a photo from that alley off of 26th Street. On one of my first excursions in Minneapolis, when I began wandering the city with no real destination – just a desire to get to know the city – I had happened upon a beautiful mosaic tucked into that alley, on what had been the nondescript side of the building. The mosaic asked the question which ends Mary Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day” (above).
Tell me, what is it you plan to do/with your one wild and precious life?
The day I first came upon that mosaic, the final lines of Oliver’s poem seemed to embody the spirit of my decision to change my life, to move to Minneapolis, to take a time out from my professional life. I wanted to fully inhabit my one wild and precious life.
Eventually, though, I found the poem and read it in its entirety. I’m a reasonably intelligent person and an educated reader of poetry, so I understood the poem. But I’m certain I didn’t get Oliver’s point. Now, two years on from that first reading, what I believe she is saying to me (and I grant that her message to you may be different) is this: it is in the midst of life’s chaotic moments that I must take the time to be “idle and blessed”. Those moments when what I feel I should do or must do is scurry and work and tick off the items on my endless mental to-do list are exactly the moments when I need to “pay attention…to fall down into the grass…” What can be more important, she asks me, than those moments of complete attention, the wonder and amazement and gratitude for this earth, this creation we are all a part of? What can be more important than truly feeling the reverence without which all my scurrying and doing is mere activity?
So, on my last day as a resident of Minneapolis, I took the time to visit that special place and photograph the mosaic. And in this first week at a new and challenging job with many balls in the air as I transition to this new life, I am intentionally taking the time to quiet myself, stop the activity and pay attention. It helps that I have the privilege of going, each morning, to Prairiewoods where I am surrounded by abundant beauty and people who have deeply contemplated these questions. Life is wild and precious, regardless of what we may have planned. Here’s hoping we all learn to pay attention anyway, all learn the importance of allowing ourselves to be idle and blessed, to take the time to kneel in the grass or stroll through the fields.