‘The family of things’

I’m skipping ahead to the end.

When I read books and watch movies, I never skip ahead to see what happens. I want to find out what happens when it happens. To understand the ending, I want to understand what comes before.


Photo: Txllxt TxllxT/Wikimedia Commons

But today, as I did my morning yoga stretches in the still-warm-enough backyard, I heard a faint, persistent honking. Looking up, I saw a near-perfect V formation of wild geese, flying south.

Instead of reminding me of what comes next — late fall, cold weather, winter — it made me think of the end of “Wild Geese,” the Mary Oliver poem that inspired this blog:

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.

My “Wild Geese” journey — my Mary Oliver Challenge — began at the beginning of the poem:

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.

It was a journey of liberation, begun at Passover — the season of freedom — with the startling notion that I “do not have to be good.” The radical idea that I am good, and that I can free myself from the voice that constantly tells me I am not good enough.

Some months later, still wrestling with those opening exhortations, I moved into the next line: Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. And then, years later, the line after that: Meanwhile the world goes on.

But now I’m skipping ahead to the end. That doesn’t mean I’ve completed my journey. I don’t expect I ever will. It’s likely to be a journey of direction more than of destination. Certainly not a journey of perfection. Even the wild geese I saw this morning didn’t maintain their near-perfect V formation for long. Two birds joined the V, but then others broke away, and soon it looked more like a check mark with some doodles in the margin.

What it does mean, this skipping ahead, is that a word from the ending jumped out at me this morning. A word I had not previously focused on: family.

I have previously paid attention to the inclusiveness, the universal and unconditional embrace: Whoever you are, no matter how lonely. And I’ve noticed the last verb, announcing. We don’t have to earn our place or even claim it; our place exists, we are in it, whether we know it or not and even though it may shift as we join the flock or break away.

But family. How did I miss that? Over and over announcing: You are heading home again. You belong.

What is the Mary Oliver Challenge? Glad you asked. You can read about it here.

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

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 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.

4 thoughts on “‘The family of things’

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s