I was driving to work on Monday morning, listening to a podcast to fill the time. It was a conversation with Mary Oliver, a poet I had heard of once or twice. During that 30-minute drive, I learned that Oliver, now 79, has spent most of her life on Cape Cod, strolling the woods and fields and beaches with a notebook in hand, writing the most beautiful observations about nature — and human existence — that I have ever read.
I don’t want to pose here as some kind of poetry expert. The truth is, I usually don’t like poetry. Most of the time, I just don’t get it. But when I heard Mary Oliver’s poetry, my heart broke open.
Consider this one:
I Go Down to the Shore
I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour the waves
are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable,
what should I do? And the sea says
in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.
As soon as I got home, I raced to the library and checked out every Mary Oliver book they had. I read them at the dinner table, during my daughter’s swim practice, in bed that night. I was inspired to write my own poem, a truly rare occurrence. I imagined the poet’s long days of roaming through the fields and forests, seeing the truth of the universe in every grasshopper and blade of grass. It seemed to me that she was living the life I dream of, the one where I finally have the time and the inspiration and the determination to do something great.
But the day after my Mary Oliver bender, poetry still swimming in my brain, it occurred to me that I already have it all: A life where an ordinary Monday can unexpectedly turn into a feast of poetry and inspiration. A life with love and books to read, fascinating ideas to ponder, never enough time, and the unceasing wish for something just beyond my grasp. This is it, the only life I will ever have. The trick is to be grateful for it, just as it is.