The Family of Things

Is it appropriate to put “disassociation” as a skill on your resume?

I’m starting with a joke because this is not what I wanted to publish today.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

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 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.

This was the poem I asked my friend to read first when I sent her a collection of Mary Oliver’s poems while she was away, taking treatment for a second bout of cancer. I thought this one in particular would bring peace to her in a lonely time. She replied a few days later with her thoughts and to say she had found some others that she was excited about, but we never got to discuss which ones. When she passed away this week, I read “Wild Geese” and resented all things, as the anger stage of grief requires.

This loss set about in me a return to my body which I left sometime around the start of the Covid-19 crisis — ah, disassociation. All of the global loss and pain has been so much to carry on top of the normal day-to-day things we continue to deal with, that I shoved it into a small tiny pebble in my shoe. I’ve been walking around in mild discomfort, but I’ve been walking (aimlessly scrolling, thoughtlessly watching, generalized numbing). Then, confronted with my own tangible loss, realizing there would be nowhere to put this grief, no service to attend, no friends to hug, no typical goodbye, I felt the tug of the earth on this flesh made of dirt. That pebble has worn blisters on my feet. My sock is soaked in blood.

I wrote three drafts of this post today, decided to abandon it for something cheerier, but Mary Oliver’s lines from her poem “Heavy” echoed in my heart:

“It’s not the weight you carry

but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it

when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”

So, today, I will pull the grief from my shoe and hold its heaviness up to the sun. I will feel its weight and the exhaustion in my arms. There’s nowhere to put it but in the light. I will acknowledge this exhaustion was here before a crisis took away the busyness of my life because I don’t always carry things well. Today is a time to weep and a time to mourn.

I knew my friend Rosanna for only a few brief years, but to me, she was a stalwart soul of curiosity and a voice that argued for justice. She made me laugh, and she asked good questions. I will never stop missing the afternoon my husband and I spent in her living room for hours, talking about books; she even sent us away with some of hers. I will never stop missing her voice in Bible studies or the way she would sit back in her chair, eyes narrowed in contemplation — this was a woman who thought hard about what you said. Her place in the family of things was as a bricklayer for so many people, building the foundations of countless students and friends. I know I will never stop thinking of her when I hear the wild geese.

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