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Your One Wild and Precious Life

This month we have blogged about a daughter, a longtime AWP supporter, a mother, and a mentor. Each chosen for their character, courage and commitment.  Before I even began writing this final blog for National Women’s History Month, I knew it was going to be a challenge.  How could I pick just one woman who has inspired and motivated me when the scope is so wide that it boggles the mind?  In the interest of time, I decided to narrow my focus to women poets.  I easily made a list…and when I found my list spilling onto a second page, I knew I’d have to shrink my focus further.  So, I whittled the criteria down to: women poets who were born on September 10, 1935, in Maple Heights, Ohio.  Thankfully, that limited me to the one-and-only Mary Oliver.

One of the many reasons I find Mary Oliver inspiring is her enthusiasm for andspecial relationship with nature.  We are kindred spirits in that respect.  I also love the beautifully bare and unadorned way that she expresses joy and sorrow and silence. Oliver’s poetry is nothing if not accessible – her poems are conversations with all of the unnecessary bits cut out.  Each of her words is chosen for its singular ability to strike the reader right in the heart or the gut – or both!  Some critics accuse her of oversimplification, but it takes a special kind of poet to get to the meat of a moment without making readers flip frantically through their dictionaries.  It’s safe to say that I’m not the only person who holds her in high regard; she has an impressive oeuvre of awards and honors, including both the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award.

The best, and perhaps only, way to explain the powerful way that Mary Oliver’s words can shape and inspire is to share two of her poems that have been cornerstones in my foundation. I return to them again and again myself, and I hope that they move you.

Wild Geese” is a poem that I often share with those who are grieving loss or going through a life change.  I printed a copy of this poem many years ago and have saved it for so long that it’s yellowed and curling with age, and each time I move, I still I tack it faithfully to my wall.  It reminds me that it is okay to be sad and solitary at times and to make mistakes.  We are human, after all.  And no matter how far apart we sometimes feel or how lonely the world can seem, we are always connected through our shared humanity.  Here is a link to Oliver reading “Wild Geese” aloud.

I also want to share “The Summer Day.”  This is a perfect nugget of a poem about the promise of beauty and peace in each ordinary moment – if we choose to pay attention.  It’s a poem that also asks us how we plan to bring beauty and peace to our days on earth, and I think that is an excellent question.

At A Woman’s Place (AWP), I spend my days teaching kids and teens to take an active role in the prevention of violence. I encourage them to live and love and look out for one another.  I stand for their right to have safe, healthy, and life-affirming relationships.  I believe that with knowledge, passion, and dedication, we can welcome limitless beauty and peace into our community together.  In the words of Mary Oliver, “In order to be good [at something], you have to really love the work of it.” And I really, really do.

So, I ask you:

WHAT IS IT YOU PLAN TO DO WITH YOUR ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE?

Write it down.  Dream about it.  Then bravely, boldly, and not withstanding fear, do it.  Do it with courage, and do it with your whole heart.

And please share.

Shannon O’Connor
Community Educator

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