You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clear blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
~ “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems
How can our hearts be anything but broken? How can we possibly hope to make sense of our country’s most recent brutal, obscene school shooting? How can we make it through the day without weeping? How long, o Lord will this senseless sin continue?
Driving home from work last night, I couldn’t quit crying. All I could think about was how scared everyone must have been. I grieved the reality of today’s school kids and how much life has changed since I was their age. I wept for how many places, we seem to have lost our way. For God’s sake. For the sake of our children.
It was a heavy day. Grey and long. When I got in the car, I called and spoke with the folks who work for our Senators. My tears started there and just kept coming..
This had certainly been an unimaginable start to Lent. Surely this feels like the most barren of wilderness places. Deserted. Lifeless. Endless. Wandering. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. Especially in the desert you can’t stop walking. Especially in the desert, you can’t give up. If you do, you will die. Left foot, right foot. We step out in faith, searching on up ahead for some kind of sign. Searching for some signal that reassures us and provides some kind of hope.
I heard them before I saw them. That’s one of their gifts. Their honking song. And then I saw them. There must have been over a hundred. There they were in all their glory- an amazing flock of geese heading north, heading home.
Geese seem understand Mary Oliver's notion of `the family of things..' They get from there to here and beyond by moving as one. We’re told that each bird flies a little bit above the one in front of them, to help shield the next one from the wind. They don’t have one leader to guide them home. Each takes their turn. One in the front, at the point of the "V" for a time and when she grows weary, the next one senses it and he flies forward to take her place. They don’t break ranks, they don’t break rhythm. They just keep going. Together. Interdependent. Stronger for sure. Wiser than most of us on the ground - absolutely.
In these weary, desperately grieving February days we could all stand to pay attention to all our teachers - especially these feathered friends. In these days when we sense we have lost our way, let us dig deeper to try to reclaim, rename balance. It’s not insiders/outsiders, not powerful/powerless. It’s us, all of us. Especially today as I pulled over and stopped to watch, I was reminded of this age-old truth: it’s gonna take all of us if we’re gonna make it home.
Mary Oliver’s words bring me inspiration and hope - there is a place that holds us. Each one. If we live into the part we play in `announcing our place in the family of things,’ we might have the courage enough to step out and step up. And who knows, maybe we can even fly.
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan (now a freshman at Guilford College) and Sam at sophomore at DHS in Decatur, GA.