Geese and Gratitude

April 04, 2020 4 min read

Are you growing weary? I have had my moments too. As the sense of security slips away and the illusion of control transfers to a very clean kitchen and too many loaves of baked bread, I have had moments of a sort of existential tenuity. Fearing for my health, for the health of those I love, for those who have had to shutter their little shops, for the seasoned elderly bearing it with grace and optimism; irritated by what my friend labeled yesterday as ‘arrested development’ as we are thrown into temporarily permanent close quarters with people who still see us as who we once were and not who we have become. Oh, it has moments of not pretty. 

A few days ago I woke without the usual joyful innocence that permeates the first hour of my day. Many mornings I wake and send singing Animojis to my family and friends mostly to annoy them and partly because I still am trying to convince everyone that I have a great singing voice. But I noticed on that morning that my impishness was flattened. I did not have an Animoji urge. I was itching inside, needing something I could not put my finger on. As a fairly solitary person anyway, the solitude alone could not explain the itch. Then I thought of geese.

Bear with me a moment while I explain this in a labyrinth way (aka long-winded). Thank you for staying. 

I grew up going to church, like so many of us. While I am personally no longer keen on organized religion, I do believe in God, though my relationship with him/her/it has evolved much since then. It’s deep.

I was fortunate because I grew up going to a church in Los Angeles where we were taught that God was in our corner, on our side, always rooting for us. I never heard about a wrathful God, never imagining he’d squish me or send me to hell or cause me to lose a track meet if I said the wrong thing.

It was our pastor Charles Shields that taught me this. He also taught us about Buddhism, Judaism, and meditation. And he taught me about geese.

Charles was pastor at our church from 1981 to 1999 and passed away young from cancer. He was an important person in my life. He was a goose for me.

In 1986 I became pregnant at 16.This was not a normal occurrence in my world and it is a much longer piece of writing to explain that period of my life. I can say with certainty that it was not a good time for me. It was lonely and terrifying. I lost most of my friends, moved out of my home, was not allowed to attend school, and wore the metaphorical scarlet letter in my little town.

During those months I wondered where God went. I wondered if my belief in God and in purpose had been some childhood fantasy akin to the Easter Bunny and Santa. Had I been duped? Had I been foolish? It was during that time that I like to say I had quite a few rumbles with God. I consciously tried to lose my faith because I felt betrayed and humiliated. Still, underneath all of the sorrow, loneliness and fear, there was a distant but constant shimmer in the depths. In the middle of those eternal nights full of despair I would silently say to myself, “Do not be afraid.”

I remember the day that Charles called me just after I had let the world know that I had decided to keep my baby. “Hiya Carrie! I’m coming to get you. Let’s go for a drive and get a bite.” The juxtaposition of his joy next to my despair was a startling exposition of how far I had sunk.

We discussed my decision to keep my baby. He wanted to make certain I knew my options and also what I was getting myself into. Of course nobody can know that until the baby is there, as all mamas know, but he tried to enlighten me anyway. As he dropped me off, he slapped his knee, let out a laugh and said, “Well, looks like we are going to have someone new to love very soon!” Charles had a faith I envied. Mine would be challenged.

Years later, in 1999, when Charles’ cancer had returned after being in remission, he gave his last sermon. As he stood pale and thin in the pulpit, behind him was a large movie screen emblazoned with a photo of geese flying in V formation at sunset. He explained that geese take care of each other; that when the goose in the lead position grows tired, another takes its place. He told us that when a goose is wounded, two geese follow it down and stay with it until it dies or can fly again. He told us that when geese fly in formation, they can fly much farther than when alone.

He said, “Take care of each other.”

I have never forgotten that for his very last sermon just before death, instead of choosing to speak about his life, his glorious calling and career, he chose to tell us to take care of each other. Love. 

Two days ago, as I sat in bed having coffee and writing, I began to write about geese. I decided I needed a goose or two to fly down with me and rest by my side for the day while I gathered myself. I was weary. I am the kind of goose that likes to be in front with a tendency to fly until exhaustion before a replacement is forcibly brought in. Still, I called on three geese that day and each responded. They spent a total of four hours on the phone with me as we discussed old wounds, dreams, books, Laird Hamilton, relationships, addiction, fear, purpose, abandonment, grief, and the fact that I am making too much bread.

At the end of the day when I finally turned the lights off and closed my eyes, a single tear fell from my eye and made my nose itch as I thought about Charles, geese and gratitude.

Let’s take care of each other.



Notes of Inspiration