In the last two lines of her poem “The Summer Day”, Mary Oliver poses an incredibly haunting question:
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”
My first encounter with these words came several years ago, during a time that now seems like an entirely different life, like an old acquaintance, someone I used to know.
And I suppose it was.
I was living in Fryeburg, Maine, working four part time jobs. (Yes, four.) I was playing music while wearing one of those many hats, but my true talents of performing and songwriting were lying almost entirely dormant.
Well, that’s a long sad story, but I will give you a condensed version:
For the several years that I lived in Fryeburg, I was in an increasingly harmful relationship with a deeply controlling and manipulative man. Did he beat me? No – the bruising that I endured was much more insidious. He didn’t attack my body. He attacked my mind – my self-worth, my self-esteem, my humanity.
That’s the worst kind of abuse.
So, when I first heard Mary Oliver’s question, its salience stunned me; it immediately brought tears to my eyes. It seemed to underscore everything of importance and meaning in my life. This wise woman, this gifted poet, was offering me a way out.
Sadly, it would take me a few more years before I would be able to answer Mary’s question with any sort of confidence.
But that question stayed with me, hung over me, tugged at the corners of the veil.
Finally in February 2010, after encouragement from and with the help of very dear friends, I broke free and reclaimed my life. There are some deep wounds that are still healing, and patience has never been my strong suit. But, just like with any serious physical injury, the millimetric movement towards wholeness of spirit will take time.
It is still taking time.
In the three years since, I have come to know and experience the fullness of love, joy, exciting uncertainty, respect, adventure, discovery – all the best qualities of a life fully lived.
As I type these words, I am also preparing to leave for a conference in Rhode Island, where I will be one of ten performers (out of a juried pool of seventy) in front of an audience of fellow songwriters and musicians, venue operators, radio DJs and other music biz folks. What an awesome opportunity this is! I am also reflecting on three years of so many amazing experiences that have found me making so many new friends, creating an entire catalog of new music and forging incredible new bonds; meeting and falling in love with my best friend and traveling to nearly every corner of the U.S. with him and sharing my music and myself on concert stages, in coffeehouses, at open stages, in people’s homes; seeing the Grand Canyon at sunset and the midwestern plains at sunrise; hearing the thump and roar of a second line in New Orleans and the hustle and bustle of downtown Chicago; smelling the Pacific Ocean in San Diego and fresh tortillas in the New Mexico desert. And in addition to all of that – actually making a living with this sort of life! If a messenger from the future had visited my former self in Fryeburg – the timid, depressed, downtrodden one – and told me what awaited me in my life these past three years, I wouldn’t have believed a word of it.
And here I am today! With so many reasons to smile!
So, with my one wild and precious life, I intend to continue living in full pursuit of my dreams – to share my love of music and of life with as many people as I can, and to experience this planet as fully as I can until I can no longer.
And how about you?