Commenting on a previous post, a friend remarked that I am using Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” as a “field guide.”
I love how that image captures the uncharted nature of this psychological and spiritual journey that I call the Mary Oliver Challenge. Although the opening and closing lines of “Wild Geese” point to where I want to go, the poem is not exactly a map. It’s a field guide, an aid in identifying features of the terrain through which I’m traveling.
This post — and Mary Oliver’s recent passing — bring me to a pivotal line, a sudden shift in the terrain, from inner to outer:
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.
When I first read the poem, that line bristled with cold indifference, even reproach: You think your despair is the center of the universe, but the universe couldn’t care less.
With time and rereading, my view changed. There is indifference, for sure. But it’s not cold or warm, hostile or embracing. Continue reading