Sunday, August 03, 2014
One Wild and Precious
I cannot say for certain what it was about the milk bottle that convinced me that it was mine. It could have been the textured glass that felt like sandpaper. Or the way the sharp light from the windows at the storefront spread into a soft pool of translucence around its edges. Or the cool curves that conjured up memories of the mornings when my father left home early early early to make deliveries to the front porches of people I didn’t know. Whatever it was, it took only moments for me to pay the exorbitant ransom and hurry away down King Street.
For the last fifteen years or so, the milk bottle has sat quietly on a shelf at Sandhill, the receptacle for quarters I will not spend, a conservatory for the flat silver discs that clink their way into a mound of delayed gratification. When the bottle is full, I treat myself to something frivolous or, if not frivolous, at least a bit more extravagant than I would usually allow. Sitting on the floor, tilting the bottle just so, watching the quarters tumble through the mouth of the bottle, feeling it grow lighter and lighter as it empties, I remember the little girl thrill of emptying a piggy bank. Stacking the quarters in towers of four, counting out the dollars, I am taken back to childhood Saturdays and McConnell’s Dime Store and the Whitman Books display – a spinning rack where the Timber Trail Riders and Donna Parker and Trixie Belden waited for me and my insatiable appetite for words.
One morning while mindlessly brushing my teeth, I saw the bottle from the corner of my eye. And for the first time in ages noticed the word etched in thick block letters up one side: WORTHWHILE.
It was, as I recalled, the name of the store from which I’d purchased the bottle, but in all this time I’d never really thought about it as being anything other than that – the name of the store. In a single glimpse, a sideways glance, though, I now saw with the clarity of a stare, a glare, a studied focus that it was more than a label.
Worthwhile, worth the while, worthy of the wait. It was a question. From its perch on the shelf next to the crystal clock and the ceramic angel, the bottle was asking me, “Is the container into which you are dropping your currency worthwhile? Are the things and people in which you are investing worth the while? Are the dreams you are dreaming worthy of the wait?”
I finished getting ready and headed out into the morning. The questions stayed with me like chaperones.
Sometime around lunch I heard another question join them when the voice of the poet Mary Oliver whispered in my ear: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Wild? Not an adjective generally associated with me. Precious? I’ll accept it, but point out its substantial subjectivity. One? Ah, there’s the rub. No argument available against it, no plausible dispute possible. One life. One milk bottle into which the coins of minutes and hours, days and weeks, months and years go dropping one by one. And as I tilt the bottle, as I watch the days and years tumble out at what feels like equal speed, on what will I spend them?
I spent the weekend on Signal Mountain with some friends. On Saturday afternoon we found ourselves in a shop with a spinning rack that held greeting cards, not books. The five of us stood shoulder to shoulder reaching in and pulling out, reading to ourselves and each other the poignant, the clever, the down-right funny sentiments.
I already had my hands full of selections to purchase when one of my friends said, “Here. This is you.” She handed me a card on which I read another quote from Mary Oliver: “Instructions for life: Pay attention. Be amazed. Tell about it.”
What do I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? I plan to pay attention and be amazed. And with every moment that tumbles out of the bottle and into my hand, I plan to tell about it.