On the lakeshore stood a goose. The rest of the flock were in the water, feeding on the flotsam that the impending storm was churning up as the wind announced its imminence. This goose was having trouble. One leg was bad. In the water, it was at the mercy of the currents. On land, it was no help. The goose was trying to hop up the bank, but it was clearly heavy going.
I don’t know that Canada geese are anyone’s favourite bird. They make a noise, they make a mess, they slow down traffic, they are ubiquitous and often rude. They have a reputation for aggression that makes one wary of offering help.
What’s more, what could I do? I have no expertise in bird veterinary services. Just catching and calming the thing would be a trial for us both. But there we were, the goose and I, watching one another, and one of us was injured, and the other was whole.
I told the goose that I would try to find help.
A nature center lies beside my walk home. They often do animal rehab. I stopped in and asked if they had any interest in an injured goose. “Can you catch him and bring him in?” asked the animal man.
Back home, I scouted out a goose-sized box in the basement. I retrieved from the garage the leather gloves I just acquired to assist me at the forge. I threw in a cloth bag and a couple of towels and drove back to the beach.
The goose was on the water. He was still far behind his flock, but he was out of my reach. I stopped back in the nature center with the update. I prayed for his safety, for the absence of pain, that his flock would take care of him. There was nothing else to do.
Perhaps if I had acted sooner I could have helped, not that he would have thanked me. Perhaps he would have flown away. Perhaps, perhaps. In any case, I knew that just because I was inadequate to the task, that did not let me off the hook for doing what I could to try to relieve the suffering of another creature. Seeing his pain made me, in some obscure way, responsible for his healing.
Perhaps I have heard that pesky parable one too many times.
I know that I will think of that goose whenever I feel inadequate to facing up to the pain that demands address: the frightening paroxysms of racism, misogyny, transphobia and homophobia, xenophobia, these things that are not really fear but loathing. I will think of him when the chronic pain of gun violence feels beyond reach, beyond help, beyond healing.
Once you have seen them, passing by on the other side is simply not option.