West Cork author Clare Mulvaney authored a book a dozen years ago, titled One Wild Life. She borrows the title from a poem by Mary Oliver which poses the question So tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life? The book is a delightful collection of the stories of people who have made the choice to give their One Wild Life to something significant, something they believed would make an impact for themselves or for others.
The One Wild and Precious Life we’ve been given is short; have you noticed? It’s usually when someone dies unexpectedly, or when a significant roundy birthday comes along, that the brevity of life makes itself known and slaps us in the face like a cold mackerel.
Psalm 39.4-5 says
Lord, make me to know my end
And what is the extent of my days
Let me know how transient I am.
Behold, you have made my days as handbreadths
And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight
Surely every man at his best is a mere breath.
And Psalm 90.12 admonishes us to number our days, in order to gain a heart of wisdom. Have you ever considered literally numbering your days? As I write this, I’ve lived a total of 21, 785 days; I hope to live a good number more but a normal lifespan places me 2/3 of the way through my days on this planet, more or less. A friend of more than thirty years lost his wife to cancer a couple years ago; it was an important part of his grieving process to honour her 21, 923 days on earth.
My eldest son, Erik, has recently become a fan of the life calendar. This nifty tool literally lays out your life, from birth to age ninety, on one sheet of paper, one week at a time. The notion of all your days on earth, graphically depicted in little one-square-per-week increments, is intriguing. Think of the possibilities: you can see exactly how much of your life you’ve lived, visually, if you happen to be lucky enough to stick around for ninety years. There’s the well-known practice of dividing your life into thirds: which third are you in now and what would you like to achieve, or change, or initiate, or stop or start, during this third of your life? Or how about a decade-by-decade synopsis of your life so far, limited to only a well-chosen, five-word description per decade? That’ll make you think! There is real insight to be gained by numbering our days, literally or figuratively, and thinking deeply about the choices, events and turning points that make up a life well – or poorly – lived (there will always be some of each).
And how about those people who, through the ages, have crossed an ocean for the first time, or declared boldly a dangerous truth, or risked death or committed themselves to justice, to others or to the purposes of God no matter what the cost? A cursory study of history or a good look around often reveals the stories of people who have decided I’m going for it with my one wild and precious life, whatever the consequences.
How about you? Have you ever numbered your days? Ever thought about your life in terms of the meta-narrative, the big picture? Ever split it into thirds or put your brain to work to come up with a concise, 5-word synopsis for each decade you’ve lived? Or perhaps asked what would I do differently if I could have a do-over? Or maybe sketched out the next 5-10 years in terms of what outcomes you’d like to see, or what might be required to achieve an important goal? All worthy actions, and important ones if we’re going to be deliberate about the use of the One Wild Life we’ve each been given.
Erik’s particular version of the life calendar can be accessed at https://www.ekn.io/calendar/