• Denise Frakes

Do you know how to be idle? Is it a waste of time?

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


Mary's quote grabbed me the first time I read it. "One Wild & Precious Life"- what are you doing Denise? You have one life. What will you do with it?

In some ways, it's pressure. Am I living well? What am I doing? Am I wasting my life? Using it wisely? Helping others? Doing enough? .... More?


I had never read Mary Oliver's whole poem - The Summer Day, which includes that verse. I stayed with last line of the poem but didn't have the context of what she was talking about. She wasn't running around, doing more, being perfect...she was watching a grasshopper and being amazed. She was feeling blessed and being aware of a tiny creature and it's tiny life. She was awake, listening, watching, uncluttered of thought.


".....I don't know exactly what a prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

....." Mary Oliver


What else should she have done? Yesterday, I got my windshield replaced. I sat outside for 3 hours on a little chair, a tiny table, under a tree, in a industrial parking lot, with blue sky and fluffy clouds.

For the first 1.5 hours, I worked. Read articles for work, had a meeting- via phone and then did a little planning. Finally, ... I looked up.


The birds were singing. I looked into the clouds for images. A fellow windshield replacement waiter asked to sit with me under the tree. Before long we got to talking. Real talking- not sitting next to each other staring into our cell phones. Real conversation!


When was the last time I sat for 3 hours under a tree?


The 3 hours of waiting wasn't a chore. It was a gift. I was idle. No rushing, because, there was no where to go, no where for me to be. I had no control of how fast my windshield got replaced. Maybe it took longer than normal- a worker called in sick. Did I wonder if this person is ok or did I think of the inconvenience to me? I don't remember.


I didn't fall down on my knees and watch a grasshopper like Mary, but I was idle. I enjoyed the time under the tree.


Summer, begs us to be idle. Do we know how to be idle without our phones? To just sit. To pay attention? To have conversations? To watch clouds, listen to birds, be content being?


My mom gave me this new Mary Oliver book when I visited a few weeks ago. House of Light Poems by Mary Oliver the winner of the 1984 Pulitzer prize for poetry. Mary who spent her afternoon falling to her knees to watch a grasshopper & paying attention.

Was she wasting her days?


This is her poem---the whole poem. Click here to listen to Mary Oliver read this


The Summer Day

Who made the world?

Who made the swan, and the black bear?

Who made the grasshopper?

This grasshopper, I mean--

the one who has flung herself out of the grass,

the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,

who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down--

who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.

Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.

Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.


I don't know exactly what prayer is.

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver






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