Your Wild and Precious Life

I so enjoyed the new movie, Nyad. It’s the true story of Diana Nyad who, at the age of 60, decides to try again to complete the grueling 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida, a feat she first attempted 30 years earlier. How can you not be inspired by someone who pushes her body beyond what any of us would imagine possible, especially for someone of her age? And how can you not root for someone whose reawakened dream motivates and energizes her all over again?

Early in the movie, it is suggested that Nyad is inspired to consider the swim partly because she discovers a famous Mary Oliver quote, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” It’s implied that Nyad is feeling stuck and missing her “wild” younger self and so she recommits to her long-ago goal.

Enter the American obsession with youth, or in this case, reclaiming our youth, refusing to grow old. You’re only as old as you feel, we love to say. You can do anything you set your mind to, we love to believe. And Hollywood is always right there to remind us.

And it is inspiring to see someone of any age achieve a long-held, ultra-challenging goal. By the end of the movie, Nyad is shown on the circuit as a motivational speaker. She even brags about waking up her neighbors at 4:45 a.m. by playing “Reveille” on a bugle. She wants them to get up and get on with living, she says. Or at least, her version of living. Personally, I’d be pretty unhappy if my neighbor dared to wake me at 4:45 a.m. for any reason.

While I very much enjoyed the movie, I couldn’t help but think about that Mary Oliver quote. It’s from a poem called “The Summer Day.” Oliver was famous for her long, solitary ambles in the woods, her quiet life with her partner, her reluctance to do interviews. She was a deep observer of nature. In much of the poem, she is watching in awe as a grasshopper moves its jaws and eyes and snaps open its wings. In the very same poem, she says she knows how to be “idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields, which is what I have been doing all day.” And she asks what else she should have done?

It struck me as wonderfully ironic that the poem that supposedly spurred Nyad toward extreme sports stemmed from a poem in which Mary Oliver is saying that a quiet life of observation is a worthy life.

In other words, you are not aging “better” if you push yourself to extremes. You do not need to “get up and get on with life” at the crack of dawn in order to age well. You are just as worthy if you sit outside appreciating the breeze on your cheek and the birdsong in your ear as you are pushing your body to its physical limits.

You define what is “wild” in your precious life. When you hit 60, or 70, or 80, die your hair purple if you want, or let it go gray. Travel the world, or garden in your backyard. Go back to school, or read cozy mysteries all afternoon.

Diana Nyad felt most alive battling the waves in the ocean. Mary Oliver felt most alive idling on the grass on a summer day. As long as you’re living in this present moment and feeling alive, you’ll be my inspiration.

If you like this post, please share and credit Teresa and Bursts of Brilliance for a Creative Life blog