“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” asks Mary Oliver’s poem The Summer Day. It’s a question I return to again and again when times are difficult, and I feel I have lost my way. It’s been like that lately, all the news seems bad, the world full of bullies, and suffering, and the winter ongoing. I am ready to watch something sprout and grow, unfurl and bloom. So following the headlines about the Downeast couple who’s home/methamphetamine lab burned down just an hour after their baby died pushed all of my “we’re going to hell in a handbasktet” buttons. Pushed them in and held them there.
I want so badly to judge these people, to slap them across the face and scream at them “What were you thinking? You had enough gumption to try to change your situation in life and used your entrepreneurial energy to make crystal meth?!? Seriously? CRYSTAL METH??? When has that ever worked out for anyone?” It’s so easy to judge them, dismiss their poor choices, blame them for the death of their baby and condemn them to getting what they deserve. But… I can’t do that. Judging is easy, but I spent all weekend judging and it just doesn’t feel right. There’s a meme going around and around on the internet, a list of advice from a teacher to his or her students. Number 83 states “Be kind, everyone has a hard fight ahead of them”. It’s another way of saying that you don’t have any idea what other peoples’ lives are like, what they are up against, and why they make the choices they make. Default to kindness, default to not judging because you can really only be judging what shows on the outside, what shows up in the headlines. What I finally realized is why judging is easy, and why not judging is hard. Judging means you aren’t them. Separating the “us” from the “them” has been the root of all conflict in the history of human beings. Not judging means you realize you could be them. Would it be possible for me to say with absolute certainty that if I were in the same situation I wouldn’t make the same poor choices? I can’t say that, which to me is the essence of humility. In the poem “Song of Myself” Walt Whitman says “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.” We are not all that different after all, and in realizing that, we come to know our essential humanity.
The anger I do allow myself is the anger of wondering how did it get this way? I find myself broken hearted that so many people have so few choices that risking life and limb to set up a meth lab in their home (or burglarizing their neighbors to find prescription drugs or getting involved in internet child pornography or fill in the blank here with the latest desperate and ungrounded choice ripped from the headlines of the local paper) seems like the best possible plan. Sometimes I feel like I am living on a different planet, floating around in my own precious bubble. Not judging may be the first step in staying grounded.
How did it get this way, and why do some of us take one path, and others a different one? We are all created equal, but the reality is that we don’t all have the same resources and opportunities, mental, educational, and material, with which to make our way in the world. I did not come from a family of means and I live in a rural area where economic opportunity is limited but some how I’ve managed to craft a life that I believe adds to the well being of my family and community. I learned these things from my parents: what is important, how to take care of yourself, and that you should aspire to something, you should look beyond your miserable self and dream. This world is full of wonder and mystery virtually everywhere you look. There is so much crazy beauty here I can’t stand it some times. It stops by breath and drops me to my knees. The more desperate your situation, the harder it is to see beyond yourself, I know that much is true. But I believe the more we can help people see beyond their own bubble, whether it is to see a sun set, a flower blooming, the tide coming in, or another person’s heart, the world will be a better place.
I went out running today, in the woods, in the blizzard. And I realized that my running is entirely my own, it doesn’t make the world a better place, except for me, and my dogs, and maybe my husband because it puts me in a better mood. I’ve made choices in my life, and these are my consequences: freedom to run in the snow, breath deeply the fresh air, a life full of mystery and wonder. The down east meth makers, they’ve made choices too, and they are now facing their own consequences. What is it I plan to do with my one wild and precious life? It’s a question we should all ask ourselves from time to time. We all benefit from thinking long and hard about the answer to that question. I’ve made my choices, to live fully in my all too human body, to worship the tall trees and flowing rivers, to not waste a beautiful second if I can help it because this world is a gift for which I am profoundly grateful.