A field of poppies to symbolize Mary Oliver's wander in a field

Feel less pressure about your life with this gentle poet’s words

Mary Oliver wrote a poem in 1992 with one, particularly popular quote: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Those words used to thrill me and validate my urge to adventure. Like the time I leapt from a taxi cab and, horribly late, ran into an airport check-in kiosk with jeans muddied up to my knees from crossing an Ecuadorian mountain landslide….in that moment I felt my wild self unleashed. But I’m a mom now, and a business woman. I’m working my desk job or nurturing children or sorting mail. These days, that quote makes me feel like I’m somehow letting myself down. The funny thing is, if you read Oliver’s full poem, it actually does the opposite – it makes you feel less pressure about your life. 

Mary Oliver wasn’t writing about the extreme, high flying moments in life. She wrote about spending a day in the sunshine, idle and blessed, slow enough to witness a grasshopper’s intricate beauty, to ponder prayer. She challenges any would-be critic: 

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?

You can read the full poem on the Library of Congress website. It’s called Poem 133: The Summer Day. 

Permission to feel less pressure about your life

I know that it can be hard to be idle when you’re a working mother. It’s nearly impossible to slow down a mind on overdrive and we put so much pressure on ourselves to be different than we are and feel different than how we feel. 

My wish for you is that you feel less pressure about your life. Follow Oliver’s path to an open space with sun streaming down. Heck, step out your back door and sit right there. Bring nothing but yourself and a wish to witness. And even when you’re the opposite of alone and surrounded by your children, dwell deeply in the moment – allow your full self to soak them up. That’s what these wild and precious days are for. There is deep healing in allowing yourself to be present, idle and blessed. You have permission. 

With so much love, your joy midwife, 


P.s. My husband and I did miss that post-landslide flight out of Ecuador, by the way. Instead, we spent a glorious day waiting at a hotel in Quito for the next flight, washing our muddy clothes and resting. I remember the sun and the stray dogs sweetly sitting by my bench in a plaza, hoping that I would share my croissant. That day was idle and blessed. 

P.p.s. Do you have a memory of a slow, beautiful day that stays in your heart? Would you share it in the comment section? 

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