The other day, I was talking to a friend about the people who have most impacted our lives. She shared with me a moving encounter she recently had with a stranger and remarked, “Isn’t it odd that a total stranger had that kind of impact on me?”
I said it’s almost always a stranger that ends up shifting your life. In fact, my own life has been deeply impacted by several total strangers over the years.
My friend paused and was slightly aghast. “What do you mean? How can that be?” she asked.
Before someone becomes your friend or partner, they are a stranger to you, I explained. Something about them moved you and then you delved further into conversation — deeper into connection — and got to know them better.
Sometimes it might also be the words of a total stranger in a book or a poem that move you so deeply that you shift everything you thought you knew and embark on a different course.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, who passed away this week, came into my life just like that. Her words have touched and moved me so profoundly over the course of my life. Eventually, she went from being a total stranger to a loving, loyal friend and for that, I am forever grateful.
I met Mary through her words. We were intimate friends before I even met her in the flesh. When we did finally meet and I shared with her the impact that her writing had on me, she brushed it off. She was slightly embarrassed by my adoration, but still, she let me in and through conversation and sharing, we became deep friends. (One of my most memorable moments with Mary was when we sat down for a conversation for Oprah.com. You can read it here.)
The question Mary posed to me and millions of others through her work was “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
Those words have reverberated in my heart and mind nonstop since I first saw them printed on paper. It’s such a beautiful and profound question and I just love its premise, which is that we all have one wild and precious life and what we do with it is ours to decide.
Do you know the answer to that question in your own life? Are you even contemplating that question? Are you, as Mary encourages in one of her other beautiful poems entitled “The Journey,” listening to your own voice? Are you silencing the whispers of others in order to save the only life you can: your own?
Mary Oliver lived her one wild and precious life. She lived her own unique journey and her bravery inspired others to do the same.
Strangers come into your life in a myriad of ways. Some through books. Others through chance encounters. I know we are taught growing up, “Don’t talk to strangers and “don’t trust strangers,” but I couldn’t disagree more. If we don’t talk, converse and share with others, we will end up isolated, alone and lonely. We won’t build the connection and sense of belonging we so desperately need.
So this morning, I encourage you to be open to someone you’ve never met — a stranger whose name you may not know at this very moment, but who may end up being one of the most important people in your life.
That brings me back to the friend I was in conversation with. She used to be a total stranger to me, but now she is one of my most valued, trusted and generous friends.
God bless you, Mary Oliver. Thank you for your words. Thank you for the questions you pondered. Thank you for the journey. I’m so grateful for our friendship. I’m so grateful that you let this stranger in. I’m so grateful for all the meaningful conversations we shared.
Keep living that one wild and precious life of yours in heaven. And, p.s., don’t forget to write.
Dear God, please give me the strength to live my one wild and precious life. Give me the courage to embark on my own journey and silence outside voices so I have the strength to listen to my own voice and your guidance. Amen.
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