And so it comes to a close… Another summer wraps up within the next ten hours for me. Tomorrow morning, I will rise in the dark of a new day, put on my dress clothes, perhaps even don a tie, and head back to the high school where I have served as an English teacher for the past two decades. I still love what I do, but the end of summer carries with it a wistful looking back at all the focused time I spent with my family, and a regretful look at all that I could (or should) have done.
The past few days, I’ve done all that I can to suck the marrow out of these waning summer opportunities. I’ve spent hours in Wolf Creek with my youngest sons searching for treasures (I’m working on a poem about that), I’ve put in my fair share of time on the local disc golf courses even with the threat of storms, I’ve played games after dinner with my family, and I’ve managed to eat a little ice cream. I even drove around town with the sound of The Beach Boys blasting from my Ford E-350’s CD player (yes, I still use CDs, and, yes, I have a twelve-passenger van; I have six children).
At this pivot point of the year for me, when all my daily routines slowly churn back to life, I found this poem by Mary Oliver heartening, especially those final lines. It’s the question I must ask myself regularly, and what I pose to you today.
The Summer Day – 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?
“The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver, from New and Selected Poems. Beacon Press, 1992.