“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”  Mary Oliver wrote those words in her poem, “The Summer Day.” They came to mind as I walked along the Mississippi River here in New Orleans this Winter Solstice morning where the light that will bring us to our next summer days returns.

I’ve been walking along the Mississippi pretty much every morning since I began my own very possible return to New Orleans in August. Much of this morning was no different than all the other mornings. The birds were waking up at the Auduobon Aquarium of the Americas. Various public works employees were sweeping up, tidying up, careful not to disturb the benched souls who were lost in a high or wrestling a withdrawal. And there were the joggers, fists and jaws clenched, lost in thought of a meeting that was still hours away and oblivious to the mighty river that was rolling along with them.

But there was also something different about this morning.

There were people who were being touched by the return of the light.

There was a woman in her mid-50s. Not even 5’5″. She reminded me of my mother, who I still think of as in her mid-50s, even though that’s now my decade, not hers. As the woman got about fifteen paces ahead of me, she slowed and angled off to the left, where she sat on a a stone ledge that was a bit too high for her feet to touch the ground. She folded her hands on her lap and stared out to the river, at the sun that was rising and peeking through the thick fog. The light seemed to reach out and hold her.

A few paces down, I came across a man who looked 60 but quite possibly was late 30s. While he reeked of urine, he was, at that moment, neither high nor withdrawing. “How are you today?” I asked. “I’m getting better,” he said.

Again, held in light.

And so it went.  Scattered amidst the daily routine and the usual characters of my morning walk were people touched by the light. You could see it in their faces, hear it in their “good morning”s.

Now, I know there are some who read words like this and dismiss is at just a bunch of “woo-woo.” They’re the same folks who take umbrage at someone sending prayers to victims of a disaster.

I don’t have a problem with that. If you choose to live your “one wild and precious life” by dismissing the notion that an act of prayer can make a difference, then that’s cool. I made the same choice for about 40 years.

But nowadays, I think there’s something to this whole “return of the light” idea. And I think there’s a reason our species has always chosen some sort of ritual to mark moments like the solstice, be it soaking in citrusy baths in Japan, feeling the sun at Stonehenge or marking the birth of some folks’ savior.

Because while it is darkness that often holds our greatest gifts, it is light that brings them to life.

That brings us to life.

But that’s just half the equation, isn’t it?

It is the light that brings us to life.

But what do we plan to do with it?

With the gifts, the light?

The life?

If you’re stumped for an answer, may I suggest a walk?