Last year during our 6th grade graduation ceremony I read a poem by Mary Oliver that ends, “tell me what you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” They all kind of giggled. I understood. It’s a big question. Especially for a group of super excited 12 year-olds all dressed up in ties and dresses wondering when they can meet up afterward for ice cream, unaware they are even participating in a life that is finite, wild and precious. But I couldn’t resist. It was impossible to look at them and not be filled with joy and concern. They seemed to be brimming with confidence and vulnerability. They seemed both prepared and unequipped for a future that is becoming more difficult to predict. I could not have been more proud of who they were, standing there, almost glowing, between childhood and adolescence. I could not think of a more important question to ask them, even if they weren’t entirely listening.
Mary Oliver died yesterday. I started reading Mary’s writing in my early twenties, and we have been friends ever since. Her poems are filled with questions that I did not hear or understand (like our 6th graders) until years later.
Before I read the news of her passing, I spent yesterday morning observing the dance classes for our (6-9) students. The instructor, Jeanne Speier, is an individual, in my opinion, who has lived her life as “a bride married to amazement…taking the world into her arms (Mary Oliver)”. I watched a couple of moments happen during Jeanne’s classes that were both ordinary and extraordinary.
One was with a child whose enthusiasm can often overflow. Jeanne helped harness this child’s enthusiasm by giving her an opportunity to sing an improvised song. What happened next was impressive to say the least. She sang a beautiful song, a cappella, made up on the spot, addressing every member of her class and describing a strength that each of them has. When she started, there were some giggles, but when it ended it was all applause. Aside from her obvious singing talent, what I found remarkable was how well she knew the strengths of each child in her class.
Then there was another moment with a student who has a marvelous mind and can unwittingly whistle when lost in thought. Instead of being irritated by this, Jeanne recognized a talent in his pitch. The class has been learning a Nigerian welcome song and Jeanne asked if the boy could echo the tune with his whistle. He did, and it was pitch perfect. Stunning.
As I watched this, I was actually reminded of a Mary Oliver poem called, “Sometimes.” In the middle, there is a stanza that reads:
“Instructions for living a life:
Tell about it. “
I thought I should heed this advice by sharing this email.
Have a great weekend.