Dear Atticus, your wild and precious life

“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver

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?

Dear Atticus,

It is not easy to pay attention. A lot of life flies by without feeling wild or precious: a muggy summer morning when you’re sweating before 9:00, a rainy afternoon when you wish you could be napping, a cold evening after Daylight Savings Time when everything is already dark. This is where I have learned to do the work of gratitude, of focusing and engaging, of reframing.

I told you about how hard our beach trip was over the summer. The truth is that this was one of the hardest summers of my whole life. You were going through growth spurts and sleep regressions, and no one in our house got enough sleep. I think I will look back at this summer and see it as a tired blur.

Rather than ending on a high note, the summer just faded away. I happen to believe that it is August and not April that is the cruelest month. The heat, of course, and the school supplies being hawked on every corner. The pool feels like people soup. Summer is essentially over, and it is hard for me to see it as a new beginning. It feels like a loss, every year: I look forward to summer, and then it is gone. I looked forward to this one especially, counting down the days in hope and anticipation like my own personal Advent. Your first summer! We would all get to spend more time together! And then it was so hard. I read this poem by Mary Oliver a lot. I wondered what I was doing wrong, because my life did not feel wild or precious. I tried to pay attention, believing it was a form of prayer.

Here are some things I saw. Josh Ritter, singing the saddest songs with the most beautiful smile. A girl who hesitated on the high dive for 45 minutes, unable to take the leap. Fireworks on the beach on July 4th. Dolly Parton, putting on a fantastic show. Your dad, smoothing the path, making things as easy as possible for me. Uncle Joseph, reminding me to try kindness first. Your face lit up with excitement as you rode on your swing. You, charming the church at your dedication. You, fascinated by the water at the pool. You, devouring every peach you could get your hands on.

My life is forever changed!

I wish that our summer had been different, that I had been able to enjoy it more. But the things I observed helped me to make some decisions that were difficult, pushed me a little bit closer to the kind of life I would like to be living, the kind of example I would like to be for you. Your life will not always feel wild and precious to you, Atticus, though as your mother I will believe those things for you. I will try to teach you how to stop to pay attention, to be grateful, to give back with your gifts and talents. I think all of those things are forms of prayer. I will try to teach you to pray to the one who made the world, who gives us this time together, and who helps redeem the disappointing times.

And I will dare to look forward to next summer, when we will have all that time together once again.


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