“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver
Woke up to this quote a friend posted from the incomparable Mary Oliver. It is perhaps the most fitting slice of wisdom to chew on as the year 2014 ends.
Yesterday, I set the table for our Christmas Eve dinner. There’s only the four of us, really, for Noche Buena. But I take time to do this each year. I’m not big on decorating, but I do enjoy this ritual.
I think it’s because I want to get it out of the way. The 24th is when the hubby and I bake and cook, and we’ve never mastered the art of getting things done in time for Christmas Eve service and then dinner. So it gets pretty hectic, and setting the table a few days early is one item on the list checked off.
But really, it is mostly because I want my sons to know they are worth taking that special set of dishes out for. I love the looks on their faces when they come home from school and see the table laid out for them. The anticipation, the added excitement.
This morning, as I sat drinking my coffee, I was reminded of pretty dishes from another time. Back in 1990, when I was in high school, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit my hometown in the Philippines. The devastation was numbing, and I’ve only just recently conquered my fear of driving into parking garages.
One of the many pictures that remain in my head from those dark days is the sight of our old, overturned, China cabinet surrounded by shattered dishes. My mother’s collection. Some of those dishes were used only on special occasions. And yet there they were, though like new, had become, in an instant, useless shards.
My one wild and precious life.
I suppose a life lived out in a cupboard isn’t really wild. Could be precious, but it is the combination of wild and precious that I should go for, if I were smart enough to heed Mary Oliver’s wisdom.
And yet, I hesitate. Because wild means giving up control. And that’s scarier than the barrel ride my friends Bilbo and the dwarves survived during their escape from the woodland elves.
I once agreed to get on a roller coaster I had no business being on. Worse, I let my youngest son E get on it with me. The two of us, during those twists and turns and dips and curves, had our eyes tightly shut. Except for that one time I opened them to see my feet above my head, pointing at the sky. Upside down! Knuckles white! Closed my eyes right back and did not open them again until I felt the coaster grind to a blessed stop.
The hubby was in front of E and I, with our older son J. Their hands were high up in the air the whole time, they claimed. I could hear their gleeful cheers and whoops. They savored every bit of the ride. E and I just wanted it to end.
After the ride, I patted my boys down, making sure they were all in one piece. I wasn’t too sure about myself. And I think I aged a year or so.
Wild is scary because wild can cause chips and cracks.
But maybe chips add character, like laugh lines on the face of someone who has truly loved.
And maybe cracks can let good things in too, even if it demands an initial payment of pain.
Maybe a person’s value isn’t like the gold trim around the scalloped edge of a plate. Maybe it isn’t like the well-known back stamp at the bottom of the vase, or the long-ago-year it was made. Maybe a person doesn’t have to be preserved to be valuable. Maybe people should be valued simply because they exist.
And with their worth affirmed, maybe each person can value themselves based on what they do with their lives, the storms they’ve weathered, and how they choose to go on despite their battered souls.
Maybe this one life becomes wild and precious once I step out of the cupboard and into what I was made for.
“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?”– The Summer Day, by Mary Oliver
I suppose, unless I jump in and give myself wholeheartedly to what I consider important, I would be a lot like dishes safely tucked away in the cupboard, on display but never really of much use. And I suppose, despite my smooth trim and shine, if I never really lived, then I would never really be missed when I’m gone.
And what good is that to anyone, least of all myself?
When my sons have their own families, and when Christmas or other special events roll around, I think they will remember I always set out the nicer dishes for us to use.
I think the memory will make them smile.
I think they will feel loved.
And thus, that set of dishes the hubby and I received on our wedding day would have lived up to their worth.