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Poem for a rainy day in early autumn

September 11, 2009

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.

Today I was startled to read that a quote from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese” found its way into the speech given by VP Joe Biden at the former site of the World Trade Centers in NYC for the eighth anniversary of September 11th. Surprised that this poem I cherished during my college years was immortalized in a patriotic memorial, surprised that a politician would choose Oliver’s very personal verse to speak for national sorrow and resolve.

The rediscovery of this verse in my new context as an intern for FCNL in Washington, DC, at an urban office I reach by way of Metro trains, has caused me to ponder my transition a bit more this morning. Fall in the city is upon us as evidenced by the cool breeze and rainy days bringing out coats and umbrellas. Last autumn I was beginning a year in Palestine and the first rain signalled olive harvest and respite from harsh summer conditions with little water. Two years ago I began my last semester in college in central Pennsylvania surrounded by fields of ripe corn and forests of trees in all hues with wild geese migrating overhead.

With this new season of my life, and with the reconvening of Congress, “the world offers itself” to my imagination, and I am excited about a fresh start working in ‘peace and politics,’ trying to bring about positive changes in the lives of people around the US and the world through lobbying. At FCNL I have found a place that shares my values and I look forward to seeing where the year takes us.

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