A goose landed on the spire of my church one morning.
And he stayed.
And he stayed.
And he shouted.
And he made me think of Winston, and you, and me.
For a full hour, the gentle lapping liturgy was no match for the hooting and hollering. Our winged worshiper knew many prayers, and he was determined to sing them all.
I’d assumed he was out on the front lawn somewhere, a place where geese convene for both regularly-scheduled and emergency sessions of the Avian Ambassadors for Peace and Poopage. But just before the blessing, our priest collapsed into a smile and pointed at the window in the roof.
The goose was gazing down at us all, his dancing neck a kind of smile in the sky.
On my way out, a wry, wise elderly friend — we shall call him Magnus, for his heart is magnificent and munificent and many miles wide — turned to me and said, “I always thought the Holy Spirit was a dove.”
I was too much of a dork not to excitedly share what I knew: “The Celts actually call the Spirit the ‘Wild Goose.'”
Magnus’s eyes grew wide. “I love that. I never knew that. See, you know that because you’re a writer. Where do you get inspiration, anyway?”
“Everywhere. It’s overwhelming. Bombardment, really. Sometimes I have to pull off the road or vault out of bed at 2am to write things down. Cats. Geese. News items about Vin Diesel. Elderly men who flirt with me after Mass. The color of the gibbous moon. The secrets my Mom can tell using only her eyebrows. Mostly cats.”
“Well,” Magnus said. “You must have a big brain.”
“You’re hilarious. It’s very small, but loud.”
“Well, I’m pretty simple myself. But I try to be good to people, and that’s about all I have to offer.”
And the wild suburban goose honked.
If ever you and I think we have big brains or big purposes or a bigger-than-average claim to Normal or Righteous or Splendid, we are in grave danger.
Danger of deafness to the honking.
Danger of being anesthetized to the essence.
Danger of trading our productivity and our panache for the wisdom of wild geese and gentle grey men and old, old cats.
Winston, who could arguably nestle into all three of those categories, has never been in such danger. This is not to say he’s been able to out-fly peril. Far from it.
The first time we saw Winston, he was a wiggly goose-neck of a teenager with a white locket full of Future. George W. Bush was still in office, the Fast and the Furious franchise was only four films deep, and only God and the geese could sense a recession or a reckoning or the formation of Mumford and Sons in the distance.
And Winston, Winston, Winston was winning at life, winging his way to a home called Forever.
Except it wasn’t.
Fifteen discarded calendars later, the blackbird flew Home: Tabby’s Place-Home; the Home that holds when the moon itself shatters; the Home that honks your name when you are old and tired and disheveled and leveled.
Winston, although seventeen and weathered, was not leveled.
We lesser creatures were another story.
We do not judge folks who return their cats, which is to say we try extremely hard not to judge. Sorry is the day when our hearts are so cold that we can’t conceive of the situations that send feathers flying in all directions, forcing flights we swear we’d never take. Small and sorry is the heart that assumes it’s too strong or too holy or too loving to fail and fray and fall from the sky. There but by the grace of the Wild Goose go we all.
But we do grieve, and gasp, and grasp at ways to wrap our wings around the wounded. And the next thing we know, everyone — all of us beloved losers and limpers and lovers — are winning at life.
Winston, being fully cat, has been full Wisdom from the hour of his return. He does not need to demonstrate the bigness of his brain, the power of his purpose, or the cleverness he carries in his creative locket.
He only needs to love, raining his tenderness on the good and the bad (we are all both). He only needs to spread his wings, making a purring, peaceful place for the holy and the horrible (we are all both). He only needs to bare his rubbable belly, honking a homecoming call for the brilliant and the blinkered, the steady and the scattered, the “normal” and the nougat-heads (we are all, all, all of the above…except “normal”).
He only needs to be good to people. It’s all he has to offer.
All in all.
The Great Story.
The vibration behind all the inspiration. The heart that pays the brain’s rent. The only thing that should wake us at 2am.
The mobile Home that brings every wandering star home.
Winston is so very good to people. And so everywhere Winston goes, he wins.
Realistically, Winston will not be adopted again.* He will not have another four election cycles, any more than I will win a Pulitzer or you will jingle six gold medals around your neck or any of us will stand atop the mountain called I Matter Most.
But we can all stand atop the spire together. And honk. And rejoice.
If all we have to give is our kindness, we are winged winners. Come dangers, toils and snares, our mercy is our offering.
So let’s be brave, kittens. Let’s open our lockets; wiggle our long, vulnerable necks; and let the wildness of kindness be our only calling card.
It’s no small thing. It’s the whole thing.
*Winning postscript, the kind of winning that transcends “realism”: We are surrounded by brave, beatific human beings at Tabby’s Place, so we shouldn’t have been surprised when luminous volunteer C. stuck her neck out and offered her home and her heart to Winston as a forever foster. And yet, mercy will never be unsurprising, will it? So marvel with us as you picture one ancient cat exulting in ageless love with a family all his own.