March 7, 2019

Moments in Time with Mary Oliver

On January 17, I sat up in my Airbnb bed and exclaimed, “No, no, no,” out loud. While catching up on the day’s news, I had just learned that the poet Mary Oliver had died. I was devastated.It felt like losing a close friend. You see, for the past several years, I have started my day by reading one of her poems. It is part of my morning routine: meditate for 10 minutes, and then read a poem. Mary Oliver’s poems are my favorite to read because of how she takes moments in time and assigns relevance to them. She makes you wake up and see your life in a new way. I have a wall of quotes above my desk, and so many of them are from her work.Her specialty is writing about walking in nature. Reading her feels like you are walking along beside her and she is sharing her wisdom directly with you. She pauses, points something out that feels like it should have been obvious, but you were missing it all along; and then you continue, transformed.Her words became mantras that I used to push through tough times. When building a new events program at IEEE, I used to repeat a line from Skunk Cabbage: “What blazes the trail is not necessarily pretty.”When feeling crazy and overwhelmed with all I had to do, I would remember what she said in A Dream of Trees: “Who ever made music of a mild day?”And when my depression came creeping around again, October would help to snap me out of it: “Look, I want to love this world as though it’s the last chance I’m ever going to get to be alive, and know it.”I am dedicated to capturing these types of feelings in my events. And while I don’t expect that anyone is hanging my agendas or program guides on their walls, I do hope that I can create something that transforms people. After all, aren’t events just moments in time with relevance assigned to them?We sometimes forget the power that we hold as event planners. And I’m not just talking about the fact that we control where people sleep and what they get to eat: I mean that we have the skills and the opportunities to bring people together for real change. In our organizations, we bring together thinkers and doers and funders to solve problems and advance research. In our events, we can create emotional touchpoints to inspire people to new ideas. In our profession, we have the potential to bring people together to solve the world’s problems.Ultimately, attendees should leave our events informed, connected, and inspired to action; with the feeling of this line from The Summer Day resonating in their heads: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

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