We were heading home again when we traveled through the storm. The last time we were home was two Januarys ago for my Dad’s frigid funeral. My body and soul love the prairie, the clear blue sky, and the call of the wild geese—all of which run down my nervous system like a calm stream and fill my soul’s cup to frothy fullness.
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 your 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 clean 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.
The cows have left my Mom’s pasture for the season, leaving behind the geese who gladly claim this domain as their own again.
They graze and lay on the cowpie-strewn grass, decorating it with their own little fertilizer pellets and down confetti, and loudly chatter to one another as we humans approach.
What is it about the prairie? On the surface, it’s simple—sky and grassland. Many travelers call it boring or lonely. I think the prairie allows a person to see one’s Self. It takes away the distractions of busyness and gives away freedom in its openness. We ask ourselves the questions, “Who am I in relation to the expansive blue sky?” “What is my place in this green, good Earth?” Many aren’t ready for the questions or the answers, but the invitation is there.
Meanwhile, the geese have made the prairie their home. Most will be traveling on to warmer lands for the winter; some will find open water and stay despite the cold.
Unlike most animals and birds, geese are at home on land, in the water, and in the air. Wherever they are, they claim it for their own.
Meanwhile, the sun moves over the prairie, moves over the unnamed water…
…moves over the geese swimming in sunshine.
The geese have staked their claim in their temporary home, and they will carry that assurance and presence with them as they travel through the air to other lands and other lakes. If only I had their assurance.
When I first read Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese poem, not that many years ago, tears welled up in my eyes with the first line. “You do not have to be good.” ‘Being good’ had been my internal mantra, motivator, manager, and ball and chain for a handful of decades. And I had walked many a mile on my knees in self punishment for not being ‘good enough.’ Oliver was gently and with assurance stating that I don’t have to do that anymore. I could lay down my black and white thinking that if I wasn’t ‘good,’ I was ‘bad.’ ‘Being good’ in this sense is not the intrinsic, God-given goodness we are all born with—it is the man-made, mind-made perfectionist roles and rules that society or family places upon us or that we place upon ourselves in order to get the love and attention we need. Oliver was saying to just let my mammalian body be present and love what it loves. I could decide, from my own inner, God-given goodness. Oliver tempers any egoistic instructions with the fact that we are always in relationship with others—there is a give and take—tell me about your despair, your loves, your struggles, your joy, and then, I will tell you mine. Built into that exchange is a container of safety—that we will be listened to, protected, believed, and beloved. (Therein lies the grounds for betrayal.) Then Oliver pulls us out of our little worlds to remind us of the big world. In our despair, the world goes on. In the midst of our struggles, the sun moves over the land and water. In the energy of our joy, the wild geese call. Not only are we in relationship with one another, we are in relationship with all of Nature! The wild geese are calling to all of us announcing our place in the world—it is our job to claim it for our own.