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Wake up!

The Summer Day

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

How can we bottle these ingredients – attention, curiosity, wonder, awareness, transience – from a quiet, unscheduled summer day and dab them on our wrists, under our noses, behind our ears when we forget to notice? Like essential oils, the smell awakens our senses. Wake up!

Summer is over.

I view autumn as a harbinger of new commitments, routines, projects, adventures. I’m going to learn Spanish. Take a trip somewhere I can speak Spanish. Mark every Thursday morning as my writing time. Add gun control to my good works. DeveIop yoga practices to offer online. And that’s on top of everything else I’m already doing. I see fall as a time to get going!

Now I tend to be interested in everything. Well, actually, that’s not true. My eyes glaze over when my dear computer guru – my husband Duncan –explains the redundancy of our back up systems. I’m grateful he’s focused but disinterested in the details. But give me a book on the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system, an online course in anatomy, the back story on Venus Williams (recently in the New York Times), a Mary Oliver poem, and I go deep.

Mary Oliver asks, How do we choose to spend our singular wild and precious life? There’s not one way. But maybe her words offer a counterweight to moving ahead at a breakneck pace. Yet… there’s so much to be done in this broken world. So whose lives do I look to for inspiration?

Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s life is a testament to moving ahead with hard work, intelligence and fairness. The documentary RBG is a breathtaking look at the influence she had breaking down gender discrimination one case at a time, first as a lawyer who won five of six lawsuits she argued before the Supreme Court, later as an appellate judge, and now serving on the highest court of the land. She began at a time women were discounted and excluded from practicing law. At 86, she’s a superhero to many, particularly young women who are inspired by her example. Please keep her healthy.

Mary Oliver’s body of work offers a different example of a life well lived. Her words invite us to stop and pay attention. She expresses curiosity about prayer, the sacred, the spirit but finds it is all unknowable, except thru the lens of nature – the grasshopper, the wild geese, the stream. Her perspective values wonder and humility over arrogance and certainty.

And then there’s my own mother, Mai Bell Hurley. She died four years ago on Sept. 4. She’s my personal guide to a life well lived. While her memory continues to shine brightly for many in her hometown Chattanooga, my mother’s legacy is largely one of bringing people together to solve community problems. She had the intelligence of Ruth Bader Ginsberg, ‘though not the laser focus, and the curiosity of Mary Oliver, ‘though not the solitary nature, but most of all, Mom recognized that life is precious and our time on earth is finite so do what you can with what you have.


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