You Cannot Forget to Live

“…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?”
Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

It happened for the first time today. I had anticipated it. After a certain level of English proficiency, English learners tend to ask a lot of questions.

“Miss, what’s uh-bid-ay?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Your bracelet. What does it mean?”IMG_0522

“Oh, abide. The i says its name because of the magic e on the end, remember?”

Her eyes briefly rolled as she practiced mock-patience at my delay. “Abide. What does it mean?”

“It’s a synonym of ‘live’.” (We’ve been learning synonyms and thesauruses and every moment at school is a teachable moment.)

“Why do you have it on your bracelet?”

“As a reminder, so I don’t forget.”

“You will forget to live?”

“Some days I need the reminder.” I smiled, knowing she wouldn’t understand. “If I forget, I still live, but I don’t always live well. I don’t always use my time well.”

“You cannot forget to live, Miss H.”

I wasn’t sure if it was a command or an observation, but it was time to move on, so we left it there.

Later, as the buses were being called for dismissal and the children were charging down the hall, backpacks swinging and shoes untied, she spotted me.

“Miss H, Miss H!!”

I turned and opened my mouth to say goodbye as she grabbed hold of my wrist, her tiny hand closing around both the pulse and the reminder.

“Don’t forget to live!”

She laughed and skipped off down the hall to catch up with her friends.

You cannot forget to live.

As an observation, I must admit that I disagree. You certainly can forget to live. I frequently have to remind myself that this is my one wild and precious life, which might be the same as reminding myself to live. Because if I’m honest, the way I spend my time and energy and thoughts does not always reflect the precious value they have as a nonrenewable resource. I live as if I am eternal.

I love the Mary Oliver poem “The Summer Day”, and I’m with her: I don’t exactly know what a prayer is.

But I think “You cannot forget to live” may be the start of one.


Photo by jpellgen, via Flickr

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