Tuesday, 15 March 2016

A birthday gift - one wild and precious life

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

It's my birthday today.  Happy Birthday to me!

I am 51 years old - something I never thought I would admit in public yet something which, increasingly, I consider immaterial (work out that contradiction if you will), except that I could not be the person I am, writing here this morning, without the half century of personal experience that has gone before.

In my mid thirties I suffered a depression;  my second confession in as many paragraphs - I have dear friends who have no idea.  It threw me, painfully, out of the tidy, successful and conventionally prosperous groove I had expected to travel along.  It stole confidence and instilled shame.  Then a lot of 'stuff 'happened, and I use that word not to diminish its significance but because the 'stuff' was sad and difficult and now is not the time.

As my fifties loomed closer I began to look around me and see that the world was full of people who were not living the lives they had hoped or doing things that made them happy.  I was, of course, using them as a mirror for myself.  Had I, I wondered, left it too late to be me?

I come full circle: without the half century of personal experience that has gone before, I would not be me.  And, having understood that 'is it too late?' is never the right question, my fifties are turning into a real renaissance. I am beginning to embrace opportunities (which pop up when you open your heart), and starting projects about which I feel passionate and, most importantly, which make me happy.  My life is getting wilder!

Every birthday is a renaissance and I love to use Mary Oliver's words to remind me of this:

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

They have become something of a mantra.  While the temptation might be to use them as an exhortation to pick experiences from a bucket list, in the poem from which they come Mary Oliver has been lying in the grass watching a grasshopper.  It is this simple and personal experience of a summer day which leads her to ask us the question.  

"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"  

"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?"

I have been asking myself why I am sharing all of this (the delete key is calling, believe me).  I think it's because I know how it feels when the wildness goes out of life and you are left wondering how to get it back. You can try too hard to find it and look in all the wrong places.  In the end, it seems to me, you have to come back to your very own wild and precious life, no one else's will do.  For me things started to change when, finally, I began to let myself do the things that make me feel idle and blessed and I began to open up my heart to what came along.         

Happy Birthday to me and my newly wild and precious life.   

Read the whole poem 'The Summer Day', aka The Grasshopper here

Listen to Mary Oliver read her poem 'The Summer Day' here

All of the wonderful photos on this blog are by Andrew Holman


  1. Richard, a fellow traveller in mindfulness17 March 2016 at 13:58

    Thank you for a lovely post. Yes life is precious

  2. It has been good to travel with you for a while. Thank you for your words of encouragement, Richard.

  3. You're an inspiration Kelly. Really making me reflect and evaluate my own precious life. Sonia xx

  4. Thank you Sonia. Your encouragement has been a real blessing to me. I am so very grateful. What a stroke of good fortune to meet you again after so long. xx