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Wild Geese
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Wild Geese 

This is The Meadow, a place to create space for those seeking to be more fully awake and alive in the world.

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.

– Mary Oliver

This poem appeals to so many of the woman I know. “You do not have to be good.” It speaks to good girls, rule-followers, body-deniers, and other “scrupulous nuts” as my priest once called me. “You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles. Through the desert. Repenting.” Ah, I feel my jaw unclench and breathing deepen just reading that.

Because, of course, though I want to believe this, I don’t. Of course I need to be good. It’s what I was groomed for all those years. My hair brushed vigorously, then painfully clipped in a barrette. My face and body scrubbed, especially the “private parts.” Then my sisters and I, in matching dresses, parading before the dinner guests who oohed and ahhed at how quiet and pretty we are.

Even as a very young child, I know I’m not good. I dream dark and dirty thoughts. I play in the dirt, making mud pies, smelling of earth and sweat. I am bossy and demanding (when my parents aren’t looking). I skulk around the house and tape record my aunts playing cards and drinking, delighting in the transgressions I witness when they think I’m not there. I fight with my sisters, loud and mean, until I’m put in timeout in the pantry. I sit on a stool and wonder why I can’t be nicer.

At church, every confession throughout my elementary school years is some version of “I was mean to my sisters.” Until I am 16 anyway, when I stop believing in what others tell me is supposed to be good and walk out of that confessional for good.

Still, I didn’t really escape this desire to be good, which to me, defaults to: clean, not messy. Pretty, not ugly. Polite, not wild. Sweet-smelling, not farty. Thin, without bulges. Smart, but not sassy. Respectful, not argumentative. Obedient, not defiant.

You do not have to be good.

Does that mean I should become a thief? A liar? A cheat? What if we were all off the hook? What if none of us were forced into being good? Who would we be? Who would we become?

Are the wild geese good?

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.

I don’t think the wild geese are thinking about good.

But I am not a wild goose. I wonder if there is something to orient my mind around, to give it focus when distracted. When I forget who I am, asking myself, what am doing here? What’s the goal, the point of this labor, this moment? Is there something more life-giving than focusing on being good, or doing the “right” thing?

You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Easy for Mary Oliver to say—what if our soft animal of our body wants to do endless drugs, or binge Netflix, or eat 13 donuts for dinner? Maybe there’s another word to focus our intent as we unlearn the tyranny of goodness. A new orientation to the world. Something we can teach our children.

Maybe the wild geese don’t just fly for survival. Their call, “harsh and exciting,” is to live fully this one life we are given. It’s a call to orient towards joy, “heading home again” to find our “place in the family of things.”

What if I oriented to what brings me joy?

I look forward to your thoughts and comments. It feels wonderful to connect with others who share a similar commitment to waking up and living life more fully alive. I want to learn from your experiences, and I hope what I write is of some help or comfort too.

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