Goose Sense

In all my years of northern winters, I have never, as far as I can remember, looked out over a snowy field as I did the lunchtime dishes, and then a few minutes later slipped on my sandals to go across the road to get the mail from the mailbox. Weird. It's being a very strange spring--well, spring Mud Season, which is what we're just starting. It's definitely warming up, but we still have deep piles of ancient snow, and it is melting slowly and in strange ways: falling into fissured piles, like calving icebergs, or forming strange puffs and miniature frost-buttes. The warmer weather's going to win, but not for a while yet.

And meanwhile, the geese are incoming, in force. I was a tad worried, because their usual resting fields are still (in many cases) a foot deep in snow, and where the thaw has hit, there's a lot of quite icy water. But my local naturalist assures me that if the geese can't head further north because the land's not ready, they'll just hang around here for a while, or even (if absolutely necessary) head back south for a week or so. Apparently they're fond of cornfield leftovers, and we have lots of corn stubble. Which relieved my mind. I tend to think of birds as being .... well, bird-brained; and I tend to think of instinctive behaviour as being rigidly programmed, and I was worried that the geese would be too damn dumb to cope with such weird conditions. Wrong, says the naturalist. Geese are really pretty flexible. Geese have the anserine equivalent of good ol' common sense.

Which is more, apparently, than we non-geese have sometimes.... I was treated the other day to the sight of an acquaintance of mind--call him Alfred--repeating the same behaviour that hasn't worked for him for at least the last ten years. Alfred is a person desperately looking for love (well, who isn't?) He feels that if he shows himself to be needy and vulnerable, maybe people will take pity on him and love him. And it doesn't work. It never does, after all. I have some sympathy for Alfred: I remember back, thirty years ago, when I thought that being needy and vulnerable might shame people into loving me, and it didn't work then either. I sometimes lack the sense God gave a goose, and it took me a while to realize that this way of operating isn't terribly productive. Eventually I gave up the pattern and found other patterns that worked better--most especially, those patterns that stop looking for love and start giving it instead, much more successful and also healthier. Oh, I can still be needy and vulnerable, trust me, but I know now that that's not a good way of trying to get people to love me. I wish Alfred could figure out the same basic lesson. But he doesn't. Instead, he keeps repeating the same old same old until those around him feel, instead of pity and affection, an overwhelming desire to swat him one and say "Fergawdsakes, knock it off, Alfred!"

I remember being told once that we non-geese sometimes seem to spend all our time driving around and around the block, always hitting the same pothole, in the hopes that the next time around, the pothole will have spontaneously vanished--but it never does.

I can't really knock Alfred; he may be acting in counterproductive and somewhat annoying ways, but at least he isn't doing any real harm. But what about those in places like the Middle East and Bosnia, who are repeating the same old same old that never got them anywhere before? How about those who repudiate the Kyoto Accord, something our grandchildren are going to pay for, big time? How about all the other times we do actual harm to others or ourselves or this planet, because we lack the sense God gave a goose?

Human beings, for a supposedly intelligent species, can be awful damn dumb sometimes. It's usually because we're fixated on some small part of reality at the expense of the bigger picture. We do not want to have to give up our SUVs and start dealing with greenhouse gas emissions because that means making sacrifices (personal and economic) and we feel entitled to what we have, or could have, or would like to have. We do not want to give up our grudges, personal or national, because they energize us, give us a sense of purpose, take our focus off the ordinary difficulties of life. We do not want to give up power, ostensibly because we know better than the other guy, but actually because giving up power is terribly painful. We focus on whatever it is that we want, or feel we need, and the hell with the rest.

Geese are more modest. If you can talk about modesty in the animal kingdom....

And yet, if we profess to be Christians, the message is clear in the Gospel: that we are to love God and our neighbour as well as ourselves. Presumably our neighbour includes all those groups we don't have any use for: the feckless poor (or the feckless rich), the opposite political party, those of whom we take advantage, so that we can lead the maximally materialistic life for the minimum outlay. We're seduced by the media and our own wishes, and the Gospel message falls by the wayside--or we decide that it's important but not really *relevant*. And so we partition our lives: our dailiness here, God over there, as though the two could ever be sorted out or set apart.

Would Alfred work so hard at manipulating others into giving him love and attention if he really believed in God--if he could accept God's love and see that as far more than sufficient to his needs? Would fighting bits of the Balkans treat each other so abominably if they really believed in God's justice? Would we insult each other and put each other down if we truly saw the other guy as being God's dearly beloved? Would we so selfishly maltreat our own earth if we really loved our children, who will inherit the mess, or (perhaps more importantly) if we truly saw and truly cared for God's other critters, who are already starting to suffer from our folly?

We claim to believe in God. But if we truly believed in God, surely we'd behave with the sense God gave a goose.

If you talk this particular talk, then walk the walk, or admit that you're playing the Gospel false in practice. Take your eyes off your own small self-justifying patch of reality; look around yourself, and remember that God is justice and love. God is "about our paths and our ways," closer to us than the air. There's no point imagining that God fails to notice what terrible fools we can be, in our self-centeredness and self-righteousness. And our failure to use the brains God gave us must grieve God something terrible.

The geese will be okay this year, because they have goose sense. If they aren't okay in a few years' time, it won't be their doing; it will be ours. Meanwhile, I wait for the beautiful big Vs and the steady "ga-WHONK!" that means that Mud Season has finally taken over from winter, and that the snow will soon be gone.

Copyright © 2001 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 07 Apr 2001
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