Building the universe, like a cricket

benje williams
2 min readJan 29, 2017


There’s probably not a day that goes by where I don’t wonder if [or fear that we’re not] doing enough at Amal. Are we reaching enough students, on path to have a deeper systems change, developing a solution that addresses the sources of the problem (and not just the symptoms)?

These are vulnerable questions. And an even more vulnerable question is if this is the best way to spend — in the words of Mary Oliver — “your one wild and precious life?”

Although I’ve learned that these questions are not that helpful to try to answer, I keep forgetting that I’ve learned this. For better or worse, it seems like one of those life lessons I need to keep relearning, or at least have some constant reminders. And fortunately, one of those reminders came this past week, through another Mary Oliver poem that I stumbled across in a book from my sister.

“Song of the Builders”

On a summer morning

I sat down

on a hillside

to think about God –

a worthy pastime.

Near me, I saw

a single cricket;

it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.

How great was its energy,

how humble its effort.

Let us hope

it will always be like this,

each of us going on

in our inexplicable ways

building the universe.

There are so many reasons to love/cherish this poem, and almost nothing else to say on top of it. After reading it, I found my mind coming back to it almost daily, a moving metaphor in a world that is increasingly competitive and in need of improvement.

In many ways, Mary Oliver’s words perfectly describe life at Amal: how great an energy, how humble an effort.

And ordinarily, this seems to be deeply problematic, in a world with complicated problems and tireless pursuits for “silver bullets, industry disruptions, massive scale, and exponential impact.” And perhaps these aspirations are okay. Perhaps that might even be good/necessary.

However, there are deep dangers to be cautious of as well, such as a sense of being over-burdened, over-extended and especially over-esteemed.

Which is why Mary Oliver’s poem is so wonderful and liberating. It reminds us that it’s not up to us to save or even change the world.

And yet, it also reminds us that we do have a very important and very humble role to play. As do so many others.

So, let us hope, it will always be like this. Each of us going on, in our explicable ways, building the universe.



benje williams

“it is common to take a dog for a walk, it is less common to take a dream for a walk” || nature novel in progress || recent writing at