It’s been raining buckets this weekend, but after lunch the sun came out, and I threw on my gym shorts and beaten tennis shoes and hit the road. Water covered lawns, filled ditches, flooded the street — but the bright sun shining off the recently fallen rain made everything all the more beautiful. I did my usual four-mile walk, and as I returned home I was turning over a phrase in my mind, something I’d heard before but could not place: “What are you doing with your one beautiful life?” A google search led me to Mary Oliver, whose nature poetry I’ve loved for years (“Wild Geese” being my favorite).
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 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?
EDIT: I figured out where I encountered the poem first! It’s quoted in How to Live, an intro to Benedictine spirituality.
Run while you still have the light of Life, that the darkness of Death may not overtake you.How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us about Happiness, Meaning, and Community.