Poetry & Passion

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

—Mary Oliver, ‘The Summer Day’

When I first began musing about ‘passion’, I was briefly tempted to write about sex. For a number of reasons, not least of which was the mental image of my mother’s face, I decided that it wouldn’t be the best course of action.

Passion is a word derailed by our culture. It has come to mean something sensual, erotic – a brief fulfilment of one’s bodily desires. It is a shame that a word so pulsing with meaning should be reduced to such a one-dimensional reading of it. Passion – true passion – means a sense of wholeheartedness (in the words of Brene Brown), being open and receptive to the world and to life, pursuing depth and meaning in ways that make us come alive, following the spark.

What is it that makes you ‘forget yourself’ for a while? See the clouds with new eyes, feel lighter in step and ageless in body? The beautiful thing is that the answer will be different for everybody. Often it is the little things we do that we initially assume everyone else does them too, because they come so naturally and easily to us. I watch Eli play basketball on the deck, driven with purpose and a sense of grace as he whirls around, dunking the ball and pleading with anyone in earshot to be on the other team. Hudson carries around Dave’s earphones and a myriad of bags (and any ‘borrowed’ technology he can lay his hands on) as he pretends to ‘work’ at the table. These seemingly random activities breathe life and energy into each of them – no one need tell them to pursue the fun – they are drawn to it at the very center of their beings.

As we grow older, however, these activities become more distant. We become wrapped up in to-do lists, tasks, taking care of those around us. Making time for play or fun seems juvenile or a ‘waste of time’ and we gradually let those things that brought us life and energy slide away.

It was only a year ago that I woke up to this reality, feeling as if I had nothing that was actually mine to enjoy. Blog posts seemed to merely chronicle my efforts of caring for kids and doing useful things, and I harboured a vague resentment towards Dave for direct engagement in his own passions. It wasn’t until Dave challenged me to start writing a novel that I began treading down the path of finding my own spark. One night, I found it – randomly researching female pirates of the 16th century and stumbling upon an intriguing noblewoman who moonlighted as a pirate while her husband scoured the seas to rid England of the scourge of piracy. It was the perfect fodder for crafting a story around. It is slow going, but the moments in which I am tapping away at the keys – creating vivid scenes and characters feel – as if time is somehow momentarily suspended.

I’ve been reading ‘Big Magic‘ by Elizabeth Gilbert and it is a must read for anyone pondering pursuing a life with a spark. She speaks of it in her interview with Krista Tippett as following the breadcrumbs – living a creative life because we are all wired in our cores to be inventive. Gilbert has this way with words, this effortless style of convincing one that pursuing passion is one of the most fundamental ways of realising what it means to be human.

I’m getting on that bus – the one with the unknown destination, but the promise of a hell of a ride. It beckons with fireworks and the glow of a lone candle – offering warmth and light regardless of location. Will you come?

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.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

– Mary Oliver, Wild Geese




This piece is part of an exploration of monthly themes springing out of my resolutions for this year.

January: The Art of Hospitality
February: A Quest for Spirituality
March: The Audacity of Authenticity
April: The Genius of Generosity
May: The Fortune of Friendship
June: The Tapestry of Family
July: The Humour Chronicles
August: A Celebration of Serenity

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