You don’t have to be good. You don’t have to walk on your knees for 100 miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. You only have to gentle enough to understand: even you are only human. You make mistakes. You hurt the ones you love. You let people down. You carry these things with you in a life. You were unkind to your father that late afternoon on his big stone porch in Echo Park the last time you saw him. You yelled at Sofia bare months before she died when she began peeing on the floor instead of using the cat box. You thought Sable had ear mites, that he missed Sofia, that he was losing weight because of his irritable bowel disease. You didn’t think kidney failure until that Saturday morning when he was dangerously dehydrated and you rushed him to the vet. Now he’s dead, and you think you should have known. You should have saved him, could have had him here beside you for another handful of years like you always imagined. But now he’s dead. We carry these things with us in a life. We live with them, wrestle with them, these deep regrets. If we are lucky we make peace with them, let them lay down on the moist earth inside us, our rich decay. If we are lucky, good things grow.
[Editor’s note: The first three sentences here are from a Mary Oliver poem titled “Wild Geese.“ This came from a writing exercise in a workshop I attended called “The Way of Story” by Catherine Ann Jones.)