One Wild and Precious Life…What will you do? (And a simple practice in making choices)

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

The leaves are raining down outside, a gold and red shower.  I played hooky from work today, not to lounge around but to work on other things.  So much to do.  My wife laughed as I packed up to leave the house, announcing to the room full of children that “daddy has three jobs.”  I’m a writer and a musician who teaches for cash.  The balance of passion and practicality.  I told my wife, also an artist and musician who takes kids into our house for cash, that she has about fifty jobs.

The balance and battle of our one wild and precious life.  Live passionately and pay the mortgage.  Be in the moment and plan for tomorrow.  How can you do both?

Because I played hooky, I got to drop my boys off at school for the first time.  Unbelievable.  The first time!  Watching them run through the leaves, side by side, their heavy backpacks bobbing up and down on their little bodies–my little guys, seven and five–I was suddenly so overwhelmed by the shortness of life. A minute ago they were shuffling around on all fours.  Now this.  Big kids hopping out of the car on their own. “Don’t I need to walk you inside?” I ask.  They look at me like I’m daft, quickly running to catch up with a group of friends heading inside.  Thank God they still give me kisses.

As Khalil Gibran says,

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

But no!  They are my children.  Mine!  I want them forever locked up in my house at night, under my roof, sleeping safely within my earshot.  My wife and I are working on a formula for freezing our youngest, still just two.  She’s a chunky, bald, little laughing Buddha who carries a handful of cars wherever she goes.  How can I let her ever grow up?

One wild life is right.  How much of it do we waste?  How much of it do we treasure?

My father-in-law is dying.  He’s a carcass on a lazyboy, drinking and smoking himself into an early grave.  My grandmother on the other hand, at the ripe old age of ninety, is fighting the grave with every step.  She’s also fighting everyone who comes near her.  Both had moments of fullness in their life.  Both loved and laughed.  Now one seems to wish for death like a cure, the other fears death like a curse.

As writer James Carrol says, living is really about “practicing for death.”  I have this hope that when I sense my time is near, I will be able to hobble out into the woods somewhere and sing my death song like some old Native American shaman.  Or will I be chased by an ambulance full of apparatuses?

One wild and precious life.  How can we embrace it within the busyness?

For me, I like to make simple rules.  A binary code of life.  I don’t always follow them, but I try.  When presented with a situation with two simple options, I make sure I know which I will choose in advance.  For example, when I’m in a situation where a child has asked me to play and a job needs to be done, my rule is:  pick the child.  (Let’s be honest–sometimes doing dishes is more appealing than playing with trains again.)

Here’s a few other rules I have:

Given a choice between an indoor activity and an outdoor activity.  Always pick the outdoor activity.

A choice between a consumerist activity (the mall) and a non-consumerist activity (parks or art), choose the non-consumerist.

A choice between a creative endeavor or a passive endeavor (do I play my guitar or watch a movie?).  Always choose the creative endeavor.  Often it is out of sheer force, too.

A choice between a beer and a glass of water.  The beer of course.

The bottom line is you make your choice in advanced based on your core values, then when the situation presents itself, you know what you will decide.  This is important because sometimes the harder choice is the better choice.  Malls, TV, Internet are easy.  They’re all right there.  Nature, games, art, museums, making sweet love, whatever, all require more effort.  But which do you want to remember on your death bed.

One wild and precious life.  What will you choose right now?  Take a moment to write down a few rules for yourself.

Give Up (all that is not essential) AND (remember you will) Die (someday).  Now go live!

Read more about The Give Up and Die Philosophy, Meditation, Parenting, and so much else.