Pain has a way of creeping, of evolving into a cannibalistic gnawing entity. It settles itself between my shoulders, wraps its little clawed fingers around my neck, sink into my trachea, and whispers into my ear. It likes my past, enjoys quiet reminders of those moments I prefer to leave hidden, like anonymous slips of papers tucked into the bricks of a temple’s walls. I confess my sins. And yearn to leave those hideous, embarrassing experiences when my emotions overwhelmed my brain and I said something or did something.
Oh, I yearn for aboslution.
I make mistakes that I punish myself over and over again. I wear emotional scar tissue like a thick, heavy caul. And then, another memory surfaces. Or a new experience, a new mistake unfurls like a stack of cards splayed out and played one by one, each more devastating then the last.
I yearn for forgiveness, for that sacred white penitent robe to settle over my lesions and boils. To sink into the shadows and sit in silence with my hands folded in my lap and never move. Just stitch my lips shut and smile at passersby.
Until last week.
Pain broke through the porous concrete dam in my brain and I poured out my frustrations with myself, with the broken relationships scattered in my wake. I must have done something severe to have wrought such destruction.
A gentle friend, a quiet soul steered me toward Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese.”
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.”
Within the first three lines, the caul withered. Disintegrated. I cried as I read the poem, remembered another work of Mary Oliver genius: “Crossing the Swamp.” , her celebration of seeping deep within the primal genesis, the moist Garden of Eden and forging through the golden-green soup, the thick clumps of Spanish moss that slithers over the shoulders. Of crawling onto the embankment on the other side and seeing how one’s bones have knit into beauty. That wounds heal. That beauty exists within pain.
“Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.”Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.”
Pain separates us. Seals us into saran wrapped lives in which we can see one another and reach to the clinging, sheer plastic which enfolds us. Keeps us apart from one another. We each carry the weight of our guilt, the burden yoked over our shoulders, bowing our necks. We trudge deep into our lonely wilderness, seeking solace, seeking compassion and understanding.
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. Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.”
In my pain, in my frustrating labyrinth of memories that were prickles and thorns, I had been persuaded to believe that everyone else carried a record of my mistakes, that they clicked through them like rosary beads. A year ago, I apologized to a family member for my transgressions and was met with a blank stare. A perplexed expression. They had no idea what I was talking about, yet I had clung to this experience. Had allowed pain to inflate it to monstrous proportions when it was nothing more than a tiny bubble wrap sphere. Pop it. A loud clack. And it’s gone. For too long, I have kept a ticker tape tally of what I did wrong and sought absolution.
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. Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.”
I am part and parcel of the world. A living, breathing entity who is more than the shape of her pain, more than the puzzles of her mistakes. I guess, in a way, I am granting myself my own form of absolution. Am dusting off my knees and lifting my arms. I am a creature of her mistakes. I am a woman built on the symphony of my gracelessness. I hate it when I screw up. When I hurt someone. When I say the wrong thing that two seconds of logical silence would have prevented.
But it’s time for me to join my tribe, to be part and parcel of the world’s population and stop shirking my responsibility to myself.
I am forgiven.
That is enough.