Your wild and precious life


When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

–When Death Comes by Mary Oliver

Yesterday, while live blogging with Maura Moritz’s class at Arapahoe High School, I realized just how imperative it is for me to have those moments of Symphony–those “aha” moments when everything comes together in a rush. During the class, the students were struggling with the question of whether it is better to live for today or to live for the future.  Their question seems to revolve around the challenge in Mary Oliver’s poem.  

And no matter their answer, it seemed to me they were trying to avoid simply passing through the world….that they wanted life to be significant and meaningful. They wanted to be married to amazement.

How often do we as educators forget to live with amazement?   Drowning in paperwork, the multi-variable needs of our students, the crush of so many papers to grade, the demands of our own lives, it’s easy to lose track of what brought us to the classroom doors.  

I realized while blogging with the students what brings me to those doors is that there is always something new.   And for myself, I have to keep it new.   I’m a librarian now, but in the teaching I still do, I am most happy when I am reinventing ways to share things, when I am discovering new tools or new ideas or new books or planning new projects with teachers.   I’m happiest when I am learning, too.

It’s easy to let rigor mortis set in.  To do the same thing day after day, year after year, and to let that content become solidified.  That’s really much easier than rethinking what you do.   That’s the easiest thing to do in any job.

But when we look back over our long lives in our careers, whatever they are, I’m sure the most satisfying moments for most of us are those that stand out, that inspired us, that challenged us, that brought out the best in us.  Those are the moments that we tell stories about, that we think about years later, and that keep us going.  

In The Big Moo, Seth Godin writes about the importance of renewing ourselves in his chapter, “Get Out.”   He points out, “you may be the master of your domain in  your office, but chances are you’re also a victim of your mastery.”   He challenges readers to:

“Go out and get some inexperience.  Go back to square one.  Put yourself in a position to discover something new.”

Like the exercises in Daniel Pink’s Whole New Mind, Godin suggests activities that help you see anew, like going on a field trip to somewhere you’ve never been, or engaging senses you don’t usually use(closing your eyes, for example) or just plain wandering.

What about visiting another very different school, if you’re a teacher?  What about working with someone you’ve never worked with before?  What about letting students select the text you’ll read together?   What about renewing yourself by giving yourself permission to attend a conference somewhere far away?   What about wandering through an art museum instead of doing the grocery shopping? What about giving yourself permission to play?  What about the things you love?  What about the things our students love?

Not only are we jaded about learning at times, our students can fall into that attitude as well.  How can we challenge our students to “get out” of their comfort zones, to see the world, to rediscover that sense of amazement they felt as children in kindergarden.  How do we give them time to do that?  How do we help them see “anew”?

 It brings to mind a slogan I love from Mabry Middle School, “Making Learning Irresistible for Over 25 years”

Learning should be irresistible.  It’s the most invigorating creative act we have as human beings.   So, as Seth Godin says, we must “get out!”  We must refresh ourselves, sharpen the saw, invite newness in, be willing to change, and embrace our lives. 

As Mary Oliver asks us in her poem, “The Summer Day”,

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

We just have this one time with our students.  We just have this one life ourselves.  What do we plan to do?

Some credits:

Thanks to Clay Burell and Diane Cordell for sending me in search of poetry.  And homage to Diane’s excellent post.  Thanks to John Pederson for sending me to the big moo.  And thanks to all of the amazing educators and students at SLA and Educon who inspired me to keep looking anew.

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6 thoughts on “Your wild and precious life

  1. My experiences in web 2.0 and within my interactions with my PLN put me back at square one every day – I’m constantly in the beginner stage and it invigorates me. I try something new on a daily basis and learning new tools and applications has given me an entirely different outlook on how my students must feel when encountering the things I’m teaching. Thanks for putting this out there and making me think about other ways I could “live with amazement”.

  2. Carolyn,

    We all need poetry in our lives, whether it be expressed in words or images or music.

    Thank you for sharing both the poet’s vision and an educator’s translation of it into classroom practice.

    Don’t know if you caught all of my tweet the other night, but I also love these two poems by Richard Wilbur, “The Reader” and “The Writer”

    If I can’t create such poems myself, I can at least savor and share them.


  3. Wonderful, wonderful post, Carolyn. My best days mix confusion and wonder!

    I’m convinced that the “winners” in life are those who will have the best stories to tell in the nursing home. Workin’ on it.

    Thanks again!


  4. Carolyn,

    I wanted to thank you for writing this. It’s timely, beautiful, and spot on.

    You forced me to think of the moments, both in and out of the classroom, where I have been moved by the career I have chosen, and how they have formed my perception of that career.

    You exposed a raw nerve here to anyone who claims to care about education whether they be a classroom teacher, administrator, professor or policy maker, because no one is immune to the wonders of life. It’s only those that neglect to celebrate and be changed by them that fail to feel their effects.

    Coming out of the weekend at EduCon, I felt there were so many posts I wanted to write, and reading yours just stirred a few more. Thanks again for providing this.

  5. Wonderful post!

    If our focus is the future without regard to the present, to the moment we are in, does it follow then that we diminish or lose our future?

    As always, Carolyn, your posts are thought provoking….thanks.


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