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Poet Mary Oliver speaks at the 2010 Women’s Conference in California.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

The concluding question of Mary Oliver’s short poem, “The Summer Day,” prompts another response. Viewing my life as one wild and precious deepens with the lessening of the denial of my terminal illness: one, in the sense of being unique; wild, in the sense of dreams for fresh learning; and precious, in the sense of God’s unconditional love for me.

Many significant teachers, past and present, have helped me to this self-knowledge, in union with their own participation in the Sacred. This new learning engages this summer day and sets it aglow, unlike any other day that I’ll ever have. Even the poem’s title, “The Summer Day” emphasizes the primacy of the present moment. Note Oliver’s use of the adjective, “The,” in place of “a”—It’s not just any old day. Each day bears its own fruit, with its deepening commitment. Despite still much to learn, I no longer dwell upon the length of days allotted me.

So, the challenge to the able-bodied and the chronically ill prickles under the skin: No day is to be wasted for the build-up of the Kingdom of God. Our world depends upon it.

Even in the face of daily shootings and consequent mayhem, Mary Oliver offers spirit-support through her poems, “The Summer Day,” being among them.

Two weeks it had been going on: burning feet jerking me awake, scattering dreams from awareness, and plunging me within dregs of misery. Bleary-eyed, I pulled myself out of bed and began ankle pumps to restore circulation, but only somewhat. Daytime walking hurt and disrupted my self-care routine for my terminal illness. Rather than use opiates offered by the hospice nurse, I researched other responses to this nerve pain.

One was from Foot Wakers by Yamuna: hollow rubber half-spheres covered with knobbles that stimulate sluggish circulation. While sitting at my computer, I ripple my bare feet over the top and sides of the knobbles: their tingling offers my bluish feet a holiday like none other. Even my hammertoes stretch out nicely. Days of such care have scotched the fire in my feet and restored my walking.


This experience opened me to the symbolic meaning of Foot Wakers: people, places, and things that pull us from the humdrum, put spirit in our steps, and ply melodies in our hearts—all carriers of God’s unconditional love in which we thrive.

Certainly years of Gloucester retreats combined all three: my spirited directors and other retreatants who came year after year; the kaleidoscopic beauty of the seascape; the delicious food and spartan accommodations. Salty silence relaxed my rigid ego, freshened my attitude, and pried open awareness of the Cosmic Christ in our midst. Eight days was never long enough.


Listening relaxes strangleholds that impound change within padlocked barriers.

Listening steels resolve to accept the unacceptable, with its terror of the unknown.

Listening encourages taking the next step wherever it leads, up or down, anywhere.

Listening eases raspy breaths until the next treatment, with the expulsion of fluids.


Listening stills the gibberish wheel whirling nonessentials into crazed perceptions.

Listening staunches imperatives that impound choices within sticky globs of paste.

Listening softens the jagged edges of anger intent upon maiming, grousing, lying.

Listening defuses pompous pretending like pricking helium balloons tied to gates.


Listening twizzles cacophony into harmonious rhythms that brilliance moods.

Listening unearths flickering images signaling critical change in the night sky.

Listening greens hope that hides out in recesses of stuffed closets and drawers.

Listening waters parched arroyos with decades of insect and animal detritus.


Listening enhances words that vibrate like dulcimers along mountain streams.

Listening teases shimmering pastels that titter in sunshine-drenched mornings.

Listening patches potholes of isolation and ignorance with significant connections.

Listening burgeons whispered prayer like striped camellia blossoms in full flower.



Such listening fosters obedience of the heart, authentic living, and growth in His likeness.

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