“A Bride Married to Amazement”

Recently the extraordinary poet Mary Oliver passed away. Her poetry spoke to me so deeply, as it did to millions. Her words were a beacon of light, shining the way forward to a richer existence. My friend Carla Robertson is a life coach and the name of her business, Living Wild and Precious, was inspired by the famous line from Oliver’s poem “The Summer Day”: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?”  

That question just grabs you by the throat, doesn’t it? That’s what I love about her work—the images are breathtakingly beautiful, which is wonderful in itself … but then comes an observation or question that stops you in your tracks and makes you think, long and hard. Like this, from “Moments,” which gave me courage when I needed it:

Your heart is beating, isn’t it?

You’re not in chains, are you?

There is nothing more pathetic than caution

when headlong might save a life,

even, possibly, your own.


And this, from “Wild Geese”:

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.

When I first encountered these lines, I cried. I felt such enormous relief. I should re-read them every morning to remind myself of this vital truth. And the way she expresses the idea is so much more powerful than saying, hey, don’t be hard on yourself. She puts it so brilliantly; she was a virtuoso of phrasing.

Here is another of my favorites, which I discovered last year:


Like Magellan, let us find our islands
To die in, far from home, from anywhere
Familiar. Let us risk the wildest places,
Lest we go down in comfort, and despair.

For years we have labored over common roads,
Dreaming of ships that sail into the night.
Let us be heroes, or, if that's not in us,
Let us find men to follow, honor-bright.

For what is life but reaching for an answer?
And what is death but a refusal to grow?
Magellan had a dream he had to follow.
The sea was big, his ships were awkward, slow.

And when the fever would not set him free,
To his thin crew, “Sail on, sail on!” he cried.
And so they did, carried the frail dream homeward.
And thus Magellan lives, although he died.

Wow. It’s amazing, her ability to move, to encourage, to inspire. I’d love to know how many lives have been changed by her work. And that won’t stop with her passing. She may be gone, but her words will touch people for generations to come. She lived the vivid, all-in life that she wanted to—the life she wrote about below—and what more could any of us want? It’s certainly what I want. I’m enormously grateful that she shared her gifts with us.

From “When Death Comes”:

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.


I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.



What if?

What if you believed you are worthy?

What if you accepted the praise rather than deflecting it?

What if you embraced the joy as much as you wallow in the pain?


What if you agreed that you are special,

that inside you lives a gorgeous spirit nothing can break,

that you are more than enough just as you are,

and that the only person you need to hear that from is you?


What if you trusted in the love that yearns toward you,

in the light that others to seem to see?

What if you believed that people you admire could admire you?


What if you stopped holding yourself back,

pushing yourself down,

making yourself small?


What if believing in yourself was as natural as believing in the sunrise?


What if you allowed the glory biding its time offstage to step into the spotlight?


What if you felt the terror and did it anyway?

What if you faced the pain and kept on going?

What if you took that leap of faith despite your crippling fear of heights?


What if you understood that mountains in your path are not meant to block your way

But rather to elevate you to a higher vantage point

From which you can see more clearly?


What if you gave up needing to know,

insisting on being right,

being afraid to fail?


What if you stopped hiding your tears—and your joy?


What if you opened yourself up,

laid yourself bare,

made yourself vulnerable,

and stayed that way without resisting

in order to feel the triumph of surviving your worst nightmare?


What if you shared it all,

gave everything away,

and expected nothing in return?


What if you LET GO?

What if you kept letting go every second of every minute of every day—

what do you think might come to you?


What if you relaxed,

and rested,

and laid down your heavy burden of "shoulds"?


What if you stopped trying so hard?

What if you stopped trying at all—and started allowing?


What sort of miracle do you think might brush against your cheek? What magic might land on your fingertips?


What if you opened the faucet all the way?

What if you unkinked the hose?

What do you think might pour forth?


What if you stopped insisting that you're all alone,

that you have no power,

that you're less than,

that you’re ordinary?


What if you believed you could make a difference?

What if you believed your life was vital in some way?

What if the teacher you seek is inside you?


What if you gave up?

What if you gave in?


What if you stopped swimming and started floating, trusting in your natural buoyancy and the path of the current?

On what golden shore might you land?

beach dawn 11.jpg



What My Surfing Lesson Actually Taught Me

I surfed! I actually did it! I was nervous and afraid, yet I got myself to the beach and into the water and on that board. And I fell, and I fell, and I fell … in an hour, I was able to get up about four times, and stayed up long enough to ride to shore twice. I probably tried to get up 50 times, so my success rate was pretty low, percentage-wise. But man, did I feel successful afterwards!

Remember how I said the waves here aren’t very big? Well, of course, on that day they were. They were higher than usual, and more haphazard. My instructor apologized in advance for the less-than-optimal conditions. She had just finished running the kids’ surf camp for the day and said it had been pretty nerve-wracking. So, I lowered my already-low expectations. I’d hoped to get up at least once; now I decided that if I didn’t, I would try again another day.

I have to admit, part of me was glad the conditions were rough. My small self thought, “Sweet, now I have an excuse if I totally suck! I can blame the weather.” And after my first fall, an epic sideways collapse that took me deep under and sent saltwater rushing through my sinuses, she thought, “We can always say it’s too rough and go home now!” But I admonished her and explained that I was going to keep trying unless my instructor told me to stop. It wasn’t like the swells were ten feet high; I mean, this isn’t Hawaii or Australia or anything. They just weren’t beginner-friendly.

So I got back on the board (which thankfully was foam, so I wasn’t worried about braining myself and ending up in the hospital—well, OK, I was still worried about ending up in the hospital, but the actual risk was lessened) and I tried again. And again and again … over and over I tried to get up and fell immediately. I’m not a big swimmer, and when we go to the beach I may cool off in the ocean, but I don’t usually spend much time in the water. This was up close and personal with saltwater. In my eyes, up my nose, down my throat…after every fall I was hawking and spitting like a ball player. It stung and burned and I felt vaguely nauseated. But still I persisted!

I was amazed at how physically tiring it was. I know, I should have expected that, but I guess I didn’t realize how much effort it takes to push the board out through the waves, then get on, then try to get up, then fall and flail around—and repeat and repeat. I began to worry that I would wear out before the hour was up—how embarrassing that would be! So I told myself it wasn’t an option, did some deep breathing, prayed for help, and kept going.

Part of it was pride. My instructor was in her mid-twenties, was a soccer player, and had been surfing for 10 years. This 40-something non-athlete wasn’t going to show weakness in front of her, and I wasn’t going to quit if I could help it. And part of it was determination. I had been wanting to do this for so long; I was finally out there, and I was damned if it was going to be a bust. I wanted to be able to say I gave it my all.

Finally, I managed to stay up and ride for a few seconds. It was glorious! I was so proud. (And I think my instructor was very relieved.) I was able to do it again, and rode almost all the way to shore before the wave gave out. It felt incredible—I had time to think about what I was doing, and when I almost lost balance I willed myself to stay upright. That was my shining moment. I was able to get up a couple more times, but the waves petered out quickly so the rides weren’t as long.

When the hour was over, I was tired but triumphant. I sat on the sand and guzzled water, catching my breath and watching those waves. I realized that I had once again shown myself that I am much stronger than I give myself credit for. I have more stamina—both mentally and physically—than I think. I tend to forget that, and doubt my own power. I may never surf again—or I might, who knows—but I will always treasure that feeling of triumph and that reminder.

So, here’s my takeaway: first, it feels amazing to accomplish something you’ve been dreaming of, especially if it turns out to be harder than you imagined and pushes you physically and mentally. Second, it’s always rewarding to break through fear and insecurity to try something new. Even if I had never gotten up on that board, I would have been proud of myself for trying. (Whether or not I would have tried again, we will never know. ;-) )

But to succeed—that really did boost my self-esteem. I feel stronger, more adventurous, and more confident. And as we get older, those feelings don’t come as easily. If we want to continue to grow and live a rich and joyful life, we have to consciously cultivate them.

That’s one of the reasons I decided to try something new every month this year, and I highly recommend it. It doesn’t matter what we want to do. What matters is pushing past our fear or anxiety, going outside our usual bubble of comfort, and feeling that gleeful oomph of “I did it!”

Success is not found in how we do it, but rather in that we try. Just the act of stepping out onto the limb—of striving for the branch just beyond our reach even though we’re scared—gets us out of our rut. Regularly challenging ourselves and experiencing new things keeps us engaged and enthusiastic. So now my challenge is—what in the world shall I try in July??