Titling an essay after a West German terrorist organization is not something I would normally do.
You know when you learn some new information — a word, a fact, etc. — and then you keep hearing or seeing it repeatedly over the next few days or weeks? Well, there’s a name for that — Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. (Who knew? I’ve just been calling it that “Wow, that’s really creepy” phenomenon. Apparently the first person to name this phenomenon initially heard of the terrorist organization Baader-Meinhof twice in 24 hours and thought it was a catchy moniker.)
Recently, I was asked to recite a poem at a family funeral. As I sat at my kitchen counter trying to read through the poem, I couldn’t even make it through once without bawling. Granted I’m a crier —I still can’t watch an ASPCA commercial without a box of tissues next to me — but this was a tough one. The poem was “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. Prior to this I had never heard of the poem or the poet. I am not typically a fan of poetry. My poetic chops stop at “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish.” A poetry rube am I.
Surely this poem was chosen because of how my deceased loved one had chosen to live his life. He followed his passions, he followed his adventurous spirit, he followed his heart. Therefore, the poem’s final line, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” seemed like an appropriate way to sum up his existence.
Fast forward 12 days since I first laid eyes on that poem and only six days since the funeral reading. At 6:05 a.m. I received an email from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. The email was titled “One Wild and Precious Life.” I stopped dead in my tracks. At 6:05 I have not yet had my 76 gallons of caffeine, but upon sight of that email title I was immediately at full alert. “That’s Mary Oliver,” I whispered to myself.
Why had I received this email now? I opened it. The portion regarding Mary Oliver wasn’t announcing a writing contest or plugging a program. It simply stated:
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver left us with an unparalleled body of work and the encouragement — actually, the prodding — to pursue our art.
“The most regretful people on earth,” she said, “are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
In Oliver’s words, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
But for this family member’s life — which was stolen much too soon — I would never have given this email a second glance. Months ago I decided to stifle my “creative power” and re-pursue a typical career track. I had stopped writing entirely.
Some may ascribe this odd coincidence to Baader-Meinhof. Perhaps I have seen Mary Oliver’s work — maybe even this very poem, “The Summer Day” — out there but paid it no-never-mind, and it is only now that I am noticing it. That’s certainly what the logical part of my brain keeps telling me. That’s certainly what this dear family member would have said was the reason. But then again… maybe something else — or someone else — is at work here, too.
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
— Christine McCue