Friday, April 18, 2014
You Do Not Have to be Good
For a bit of background: This is a poem a dear friend sent to me in my first years of teaching.
I was despondent.
I was a wreck.
I felt like I had failed in everything I had ever wanted to do. This is what had happened: I had won the lottery, and secured a full time job. I was working, full time. I was teaching four classes a semester. I was feeling like the ultimate failure. My students would not listen, would not learn, would not hear. Or was it that I could not communicate? Was it that I was simply inadequate? I had won this incredible bounty, but I was unworthy? I was truly overwrought. I could not sleep. I needed meds, but did not have the wherewithal to even ask for them. This poem.....this poem helped me. This poem gave me solace in that dark place. I was reading it again, this month, which is National Poetry month, and as it helped me so much in the dark places I found myself in my early days of trying to teach writing, I thought I would share it here. Long live Mary Oliver, the author of this 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.
Tell me about your 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.