The Good You Can Do


For the longest time, my email signature was accompanied by one of my favorite Mary Oliver quotes: “Tell me what you will do with your one, wild and precious life?” If the provocative prompt stopped my email recipients in their tracks with its impudence, most didn’t say. If it was perceived as a welcome jolt from the ordinary, a necessary question amid the every day, I don’t really know. What I am darn sure of is my good intention behind choosing those 13 words. I wanted to say, “So maybe ‘it’s just another day,’ but how you spend these 24 hours, and the next, and the next is what your life will be and what your memories will hold.” Is there a more compelling reality than that gobsmacking truth?

Of course, the question was – and remains – as much for me as for anyone else. Every time I composed or responded to an email, those words beckoned me to pause. Many times, that simple moment of heightened presence caused me to consider what I had just written, rethinking my tone, or even the substance of the message itself. My thoughts, my words, my actions – all reflections of what I am doing with my “one, wild and precious life” in that moment, that singular exchange.

The question of what I am doing in the earthly time allotted to me has hit home in new ways this year. I’ve started to think more and differently about the small moments, considering how I spend my time, give of myself, and express the good I can do. Mostly, I’m settling on simple, humble things:

  • Making sure I have enough popcorn for the mockingbird and the two wrens who hang out in wait for me each morning
  • Making a point of gathering a bag of clothing and household goods to drop off at the Thrift Shop (which supports a local ministry) on my way to the hair salon each month
  • Making up surprise “gift packages” for my dear friend in Massachusetts to say, once more, “I am thinking of you”
  • Making “small-but-kind” talk with every clerk, receptionist, service person whose path I cross

And on…and on…and on. It not that I didn’t do these things before. It’s that I am doing them with more intentionality and frequency, creating my wild and precious life in a way that I can cherish and feel good about. And that matters.

When this realization dawned, I knew it was time to replace my beloved Mary Oliver quote with these nine words: “Let all that you do be done with love.” I typed it in, looked at it, considered: Too preachy? Too schmaltzy? Too Unprofessional?  Too…what? In the end, I released my second-guessing. I trusted my heart, the source of the simple, quiet, humble things I am doing, all gestures of something I unabashedly call love. I later learned that these words are biblical; I hadn’t known that. What I do know is that they support me, comfort me, guide me. They also kick me in the butt when my thoughts, inclinations, or actions fall short of love, the most demanding standard. And that’s a good thing because the good we can do starts with challenging ourselves to live our way into a life we want to be in. A life worthy of who we really can be. A life lived from a place of love? That’s wild and precious enough for me.



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