Just this past week, I had the fortunate opportunity to be in the presence of a great writer and have the chance to hear them read their poetry to a room of three hundred plus people. Mary Oliver, one the most known and influential poets of the time, made an open-to-the-public appearance at the chapel of Wellesley College last Wednesday, and I knew if I didn’t make it a point to attend this event, I would probably regret it for the rest of my life. Not only has Mary Oliver’s writing inspired me in my own work, her words have helped me through some of the most difficult obstacles one must overcome; the death and passing of a loved one, fear of failing at one’s passion, understanding who you are “in the family of things”, and most importantly, how to love and let go.
Never have I been in a crowded room of so many people and experienced utter silence. Before she opened her mouth to speak, not a muscle moved, a breath released, or a throat cleared, and it was in that moment I realized I was part of something so special; a moment that would never occur again. I savored every part of that room; the ecclesiastical architecture, the evening light through the Tiffany stained glass windows, even the scent of coffee and womens' floral perfume. A woman of such grace and spirit deserved nothing less than a chapel of saintly worship. Though I do not necessarily believe in such idol praise, I would have kissed her feet for the wisdom she shared with me that day.
She introduced the poem “Wild Geese” and people clapped. She read the poems “Percy I, II, & III” about her dog and people laughed at her charming wit. But the most potent of her words, were the ones that left the room completely silent, except for the sound of a hundred beating hearts. For me, hearing “The Summer Day” read, was what resonated with me the most, and I think too with the rest of the audience. In the last stanza Mary Oliver asks:
“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?”
Why I have kept repeating these words in my head, is not a real surprise. They came at a time when I needed to hear them said. Having just completed the first draft of a manuscript I have worked on for almost two years, I needed an affirmation. I needed to know that this work I have put my heart and soul into, has been all worthwhile. Then just as easily as I questioned the worthiness of my pursuits, I realized, of course it has been all worthwhile, because I did it all out of love.
To love is the most important thing a person will ever do in their life. To share a bond with another human being, and be inspired as a result, is the greatest gift one can possess or be given. My manuscript speaks to this; that no matter the outcome of any sort of relationship, in the end, it is the connection that was shared that matters most. As Mary Oliver says, it is about what you do, the print or impression you leave behind, and it is about making this one life really count. But when you get down to it, these are all expressions of love.
So, to the love of my life, the person who has inspired me the most, the one who taught me not to fear being an artist, this one, this life, it has really counted.