The Dog Has Run Off Again
by: Mary Oliver
and I should start shouting his name
and clapping my hands,
but it has been raining all night
and the narrow creek has risen
is a tawny turbulence is rushing along
over the mossy stones
is surging forward
with a sweet loopy music
and therefore I don't want to entangle it
with my own voice
my little dog to hurry back
look the sunlight and the shadows are chasing each other
listen how the wind swirls and leaps and dives up and down
who am I to summon his hard and happy body
his four white feet that love to wheel and pedal
through the dark leaves
to come back to walk by my side, obedient.
I'm tired tonight. Really tired. Like Mary Oliver's dog, it feels like I've been running for a long time. In the poem, Oliver isn't frantic in her efforts to find her missing canine companion. She knows he is doing what he loves to do--chasing sunlight and shadows, pedaling his white paws through piles of dark leaves. She doesn't want to deprive him of these moments of wild abandon in which he indulges his wolf nature.
In life, I think everyone learns to succumb to obedience. Listen to parents. Go to bed on time. Eat vegetables. Go to school. Do what's expected. Homework. Tests. Papers. Due dates. Obey teachers' directions. Follow the rules. Receive good grades. Graduate from high school with a bunch of scholarships. Follow the rules at college, listen to the professors' directions. Graduate summa cum laude. Apply for a good job. Get hired. Work hard. Listen to the boss. Get promoted. Follow the company's business plan. Get promoted again. Work 30 or 40 years. Retire. Enjoy the few years remaining, doing whatever the heart desires. Die.
That's life on a leash.
I'm not saying that this is necessarily the best way to live. It's certainly the safest way. The end, however, will always be the same.
I haven't lived an obedient life. Like Oliver's dog, I've run off toward the rushing, rain-swollen stream. If I had lived a life on a leash, I would now be working as a computer programmer somewhere, probably making a lot more money than I have ever made in my entire life. Or I would have a PhD and tenure-track position at a university, making a lot more money than I have ever made in my entire life. Or I would be running my father's plumbing business, spending my days fixing water heaters and furnaces, unclogging sewers, probably making a lot more money than I have ever made in my entire life.
However, I would be absolutely miserable, despite making a lot more money than I have ever made in my entire life. (If you can't tell, lack of money has always been a part of my adult life.)
Rules are good. Rules should be followed, to avoid things like insurrections and deaths during a global pandemic, among other things. Sometimes, however, people misconstrue rules with shoulds. As in, I really should make the bed. Or I really should study something practical in college like computer programming or nursing. Or I really should balance my checkbook. (Do people still have checkbooks?) Or I really should eat salad for dinner tonight. You get the idea.
I've learned to avoid "should" thinking. "Should" thinking is all about social expectations. If everyone in the world stayed under the heavy thumb of "should" thinking, things like art and poetry and music and wonder wouldn't exist. Think about it. When was the last time someone told you that you should go out into the woods to see the snow in the branches? Or you should go down to the beach to watch the sunrise? Or you should write a poem or listen to a song? People don't say things like that.
Instead, it's "you should do the dishes" or "you should eat grapefruit for breakfast" or "you should lose some weight." These are expectations based on what is "normal."
And I'm here to tell you that I'd rather live an abnormal life and be happy than a normal life and be bored or, even worse, miserably lost. Everyone has to be obedient sometimes. Follow the rules of decorum and etiquette, at home or school or in the workplace. However, it's not a bad thing to get a little . . . freaky every once in a while, as long as it does no harm to yourself or anybody else.
Today, I was pretty obedient. I had a lot to get done, for work and school. And all of that obedience left me exhausted. In a little while, I'm going to get a little freaky. I'm Zooming with a friend to record an episode of my podcast Lit for Christmas. The format of that podcast can be summed up as follows: I get drunk (lit), discuss Christmas literature, and write some poetry with my cohost.
So, if you see me tomorrow, I may look a little rough. Don't worry about me.
Saint Marty is just recovering from a night of not being on a leash.
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