In one of the deepest moments of grief and shame and fear I have ever known, in the last words she would share with me before we went our separate ways, a dear friend sent me a single line from Mary Oliver:
"You do not have to be good."
and I wept.
Releasing for a moment my deep sense of failure and disgrace, and opening into he possibility that I could breathe the
next breath and live.
Several weeks later, in a ceremony held by a community that was willing to hold all the complexity of my healing, as my prayer deepened, Mary Oliver's words came again, spoken in the voice of that same cara anam (friend of my soul):
"You do not have to walk on your knees
fora hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves."
and again, tears flowed, washing away a lifetime of stories of worthiness and unworthiness, deserving and undeserving fall away, understanding that no matter what had come before, and no matter what would come next, in that moment I could choose to be with the beating of my heart and the beating of the drum . . and love.
Love, wild love,
has fallen out of fashion in these times.
We fear it will not be enough. Or that we will not be strong enough to sustain us.
We fear it will reach the underserving. We fear we might be among them.
We fear it will make us vulnerable. We fear it will make us fools.
We treat the imperfection of its expression as proof that it was never real.
And yet, love is truly the only thing that can overcome evil, because it is the only thing evil cannot understand, and hence the only thing that catches evil by surprise.
(I do not believe that there are evil people, but I do believe that evil is a force in the world that finds its way through the cracks in our hearts when our hearts are not turned toward love.)
And deserving and undeserving are meaningless in the hearts of the wild and the divine.
Thomas Paine wrote that belief in a cruel god makes men cruel. I see all around us, people sharpening the edges of righteousness, praying for the suffering of their enemies, whether they are paying to one god or to many or to an impersonal ideal of justice.
Mary Oliver's poetry again and again reminds us to turn toward the beauty of the living world, remember its goodness, remember love. It turns us away from cruel gods and invites us back into our own hearts, our own soft animal bodies that love what they love.
And so, as Wild Geese on the wing fly through the snowy twilight, and their calls echo from the sky, I remember you with gratitude, Mary Oliver.
And I remember to love.