"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with this one wild and precious life?" ----Mary Oliver
I ditched my island a few days ago---for a smaller one, the 42-foot fishing vessel “Dreamer.” I spent the day and nearly the night with a friend, Dave, and his crew. I went with camera and raingear, to watch how others live and catch fish. To get wet and work on the deck beside them. I went, in short, to see how they lived---the first of many trips ahead on other boats and places and islands, to see about this life on the ocean, how others live it, survive it.
I am beginning (finally!) a sequel to my memoir, Surviving the Island of Grace, and already, such grace comes. A new book grants permission for such things.
Sometimes we are given holy moments when we look up from our commute over a river bridge, from cleaning a bathroom, from cutting our elderly mother’s toenails, from surveying the view from a mountain summit, from wiping a baby’s bottom, from stacking corks on the back deck of a fishing boat in Alaska-----and we are astonished. We find ourselves, suddenly, for a few minutes, strangers in our own lives. How did we get here? How did this life come to us?
We blink in momentary blindness as the thin tether of memory and history lets go and we are unmoored, drifting, strangers in our ownlives, seeing the strange work of our hands. And a few long seconds later, we wake and remember the decisions that set us exactly where we are, that led us to the man we said yes to and the children that came, to the job interview and the promotion, to the building of the house on the island, to the nursing home where our mother lives, to the stern of a fishing boat. And the flash of possibility is over.
My day on the boat ended at 1 a.m. It was just dark then. The small boat chugged the miles back to my island. A skiff took me to shore, dropped me off in water deeper than my knee boots. I plunged into icy water, shivering. It woke me. It was a low minus tide, the skirt of the ocean pulled back, our gravel beach deeper, further than I had seen it for awhile, the ghostly lights of the boat glowing our beach warehouse yellow.
What was this place? I trudged up the beach with the ocean in my boots, up the long hill, tired from a day and night working on the deck. I did not know myself or this haunted island or the hulk of house looming in the dark that I walked toward. How have I come here? Whose life is this?
I opened the door and stood for a moment in the night-still house. I could hear breathing. I heard the kettle steaming on the oil stove, saw my mug beside it. The dog stirred and came to me, sniffing and licking my wet legs and feet. Then from the bedroom, “Leslie, is that you?” my husband calls. I return to my life, my own house. Yes, the house I built with Duncan. I remember now.
Did we plan our lives? How have they come to us? Out of a thousand possible places to live and a million people we could have joined----how are we here, with these people, now? There is only one real answer---and it cannot be spoken because it is like the wind and the Spirit that blows through and around us. We don’t know where it comes from or where it is going, but we read in the Psalms, that before we were even made, “All the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.”
Somehow we have chosen. We have chosen again and again the lives we are living, though so much of the time we did not understand what we were choosing. And some of what we are living is what others have chosen for us, what we never would have chosen for ourselves.
Who can fathom this? But Know it is true. Believe it.
And believe there is wonder and beauty and love and goodness and purpose even in the hardest places of the life you have chosen, the life you have been given.
What are you doing with this “one wild and precious life”?
Instructions for living a life
Leslie Leyland Fields lives on two island in Alaska, Kodiak Island in the winters and Harvester Island in the summer, where she commercial salmon fishes with her family. She's a Contributing Editor to Christianity Today, a national speaker, the author of 9 books and the mother of 6 kids. She blogs weekly about her "wild and precious life" at www.leslieleylandfields.com .