“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 down 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?”
—Mary Oliver, ‘The Summer Day’

Mary Oliver passed away in January this year, at the age of 83.  If I may say it, too soon.  With her passing, her question commands even more urgency than before:

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?”

This afternoon I drove back from meetings in Boston, flipped open my laptop and diligently followed up on the list of items that demanded my time.  All save one, which required closing the laptop, stepping outside and finding foliage.  New Hampshire glows in orange, yellow and red in October, and I’ve spent entirely too much of the first eleven days of the month indoors or behind the wheel of my car.  So a walk down to a local pond on a gusty day felt more like living than crafting another email for somebody’s spam filter.

Foliage stirs up memories of autumns past, and I try to push those aside.  Not because the memories aren’t mostly pleasant, but because there’s more than enough living now to occupy my limited brain cells.  And there’s only today; words we all know but seem to push aside for the distraction of the moment.  “What else should I have done?”  Indeed.  Take “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” and replace “life” with “day”.  For really, that’s all we have, isn’t it?  The foliage illuminates the cold black water of a small pond nearby, and soon those leaves will float down onto the water, drift along the surface for awhile and then slowly slip quietly under the surface to return to the earth.  The briefness of this life exemplified in a single leaf.  Had I not gone to witness the foliage would the opportunity have been there tomorrow?  Surely that’s a trick question.