Sixteen (Wild and Precious)

Dear Zoe and Dear Talia,

Today of all days I feel as though I should address you individually. You are, after all, each celebrating a sixteenth birthday. But as usual, this letter is going to be to the both of you because—let’s be honest—you’re both very much alike and maybe, I’m just a little bit lazy. (Actually, I’m not lazy so much as I’m tired, but you know this already.)

As I always do at this time of the year, I’m sitting here in the wee hours of the morning, watching the moon seemingly hover over the neighbor’s chimney (hoping to see part of that wonderful lunar eclipse), wondering what I can say to you that I haven’t already said a million times. What words of mine might hit you squarely in the chest and resonate with you so much, that you carry them with you for years? My brain rattles as it works, turning days and memories over, working to find that little piece of wisdom only I can give you. And just before I think that my brain will turn up empty, for some reason, something surges to the forefront of my mind: a poem called “The Summer Day,” by Mary Oliver.

I’m not sure you’ve been introduced to Mary Oliver yet. She’s one of Aunt Gina’s preferred poets (maybe even her favorite), and her writing, while seemingly simple at times, is anything but simple. She focuses on nature and its intersection with the human world and when you read her poetry, you stop and think for a moment before nodding your head in agreement (at least I do). She makes an ordinary circumstance extraordinary, and how many people can you say that about? And while I don’t even pretend to be a poet, there’s a reason that “The Summer Day” is so often quoted. For at the end, we find these lines:

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

I’m not asking you what you plan to eat for breakfast tomorrow morning or what you might do with the rest of your high school career. I’m not talking about what you’d like your major to be in college or what you envision for fifteen, twenty, thirty years or more down the line. The emphasis isn’t on the word plan in the sense of the word that you’re used to, as I’m sure you know, but on those words that follow: wild and precious.

If there’s one thing you can say about me as a parent, it’s that I’m honest with you. And I’m being honest now when I say this: if those two lines don’t make you stop for just a minute and think about your life and how you’re living it, girls, then I’m doing my job wrong. Because if there’s one thing you and I have learned over the course of the last few years, its that life is precious. We’ve watched your grandmother deteriorate into someone we really don’t know. We’ve seen folks discriminate against and hurt one another all in the name of politics and religion. We’ve experienced loss of friends and family at ages that seem far too young to occur.

You get one life, ladies. One wild and precious life. What are you going to do with it?

So far, and again, I’m being honest, I think you’re doing quite a bit with that life. You’re maturing into good—no, fantastic—people. The sort of people who help a neighbor, a friend, or even a stranger, not for the glory, but because it is the right thing to do. The people who go out of their way to hold doors and hold hands, to listen to others, to respect others, and to, above all, leave the earth a better place than what they found it. On a day-to-day basis, minute to minute, you’re beginning to realize just what’s truly important in this game of life. And I fully expect that someday, when you find yourselves in ordinary circumstances, you will have the ability to make them extraordinary.

Because you are extraordinary, and even though I say it all the time (insert eye roll here), I’m excited to see where this wild and precious life leads you. It’s been a privilege—a true privilege (and I don’t use that term lightly)—to know you these past sixteen years. Somehow, the universe chose me to be your parent, and even though you claim that the existence of the other twin is simply the result of a mistake, I’ll never see it that way. Why not? Because my love for you is both wild and precious.

May this new journey around the sun be one of your finest yet. May you find peace, and love, and happiness in those ordinary circumstances. May you strive to be extraordinary. May you find the answer to that question,

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

Happy Birthday, Zoe! Happy Birthday, Talia.

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