This I Believe

Melissa - Portland, Maine
Entered on June 27, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: purpose, question

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert,


This is how my favorite poem — Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese — begins. I always thought I did have to be good. I thought I had to repent for… I’m not sure what. For being human?

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

What does my body love? The smell of warm earth, the feel of it crumbling between my fingers. The solid presence of a dog named Emma. The purring weight of a cat on my chest. The warm, sweet breath of a whispering child.

My body is where I meet the world. It comes to me in tastes and scents, in sights and sounds. It touches my skin. I only have to let the soft animal of my body love what it loves. Let it lead me, as if I were a cat, to a warm patch of sun on the floor.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

When my nephew fell down and scraped his knee, I asked him what happened. “I fell down and hurt my knee.” I pointed to the small red spot and said, “Here?” He nodded, “Yes.” “Let me kiss it,” I said. He watched as my lips touched his wound. His howls turned into tiny shudders and his breathing began to regain its rhythm. I asked, “Is that better?” “Yes,” he said. Then he turned and ran back to the world.

We’re all wounded. We all have fallen down. Sometimes there is nothing to do but be a witness for each other. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on,

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of rain are moving against the landscape.

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

It’s so hard to imagine, when my world has crumbled, that life could go on as if nothing happened. And yet, people laugh when my heart is cracked open and I wonder, don’t they know? Maybe the black armbands that mourners once wore weren’t such a bad idea. Maybe they’d make us a little more gentle. Maybe, when I wore one, I’d see that I wasn’t alone.

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.

I believe the world is very patient — patient enough to keep on calling, even when I’m too busy to listen. Even when all I can hear are the groans and the whispers of my own pain. I believe that the world won’t stop calling to me, announcing my place in the family of things, for as long as I am. I believe it is never too late to listen. I believe it is never to late to hear.