We’ve got him on speaker phone as we lounge on our couch in the heat of the summer evening. He’s asking us what we’d need to live comfortably in our old age, and we’re looking at each other with a blank stare, because how do two barely-adults possibly know what to expect in forty years when our bodies have wrinkled and our years lived are greater than the ones left to live? I blink a few times and throw out a number that seems reasonable, and suddenly it feels like I could reach out and brush time as it flies by. The clock doesn’t stop, the days keep moving, years pile on years and before we know it we’ll be there – age sixty-five – and that vague concept of retirement and old age will be a reality. Suddenly, the idea of investing for the future seems not just wise but urgent. Life itself feels urgent, because our days our spinning past us and no matter how hard we grasp and squeeze, we have no control over the way their whizzing by.
Tell me, Mary Oliver poetically asks, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Because we only have one. One singular, finite life. To us becoming adults, running through this world trying to find our careers and spouses and dream homes and callings, it is easy to feel like our days are stretched out infinitely before us, to feel like we will be in this stage of self-discovery forever. I look at my skin, bronzed from hours running through mountains and down rivers, and it seems absurd that someday it will be spotted and sagging from limbs that no longer move with ease. As I rise in the morning to birds singing and sun shining brightly and it confounds me that someday I will not wake.
So tell me, what it is you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
We can feel a lot of push to figure life out, us twenty-somethings. What are you going to major in? What career do you plan on pursuing? Who are you going to marry? Where will you live? Will you settle down there? When will you have kids? When are you taking out a thirty-year mortgage and how are you planning on saving for the future? And what are you going to do with your life, your one wild and precious life?
It would be easy to let this question send us into a panic. It would be easy to spend your one life wildly chasing after the frantic need to do all you possibly can with every single precious hour. Somedays it feels like a race to get through these years so that we can get to the ones where we’re established and settled and adulting like pros. The American Dream should be our dream and we should have a ten year plan in place for getting there.
Race and hurry and hustle and get it together. Do more, do it better, do it faster.
But ask the one who has made it to the end of the finish line, the accomplishments of the American Dream lying before them, and they’ll look at you with a wistful gleam in their eye and tell you how they miss being at the start line. All that vibrant energy, all those days yet to live, all the hopes and dreams and bright future ahead, all that smooth skin.
Maybe it turns out the dream is today, and not when you have that retirement plan in tact, or that perfect home purchased, or that fantasy spouse and children at your side, or the perfect career in place. Maybe it is about living where you are with the same enthusiasm as you would if you had everything you wanted.
It’s not ten years from now, it’s not when you finally get it all together and figure out what you’re doing. Your one wild and precious life is today. It may stretch on for another fifty years, another sixty or seventy years even. But for now all we have is the present, this very moment happening right here. That green grass outside your door, the brilliant blue sky over your head, those people breathing next to you, the task at hand. Your life is today, so tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?