Birdsong

I was out walking on Friday afternoon when I finished working—something that has become part of my “quaroutine.” I have found that a walk between work and preparing dinner helps to clear my mind and allows me to shift more fully to family time. Working from home can sometimes blur the work time/family time distinction.

Toward the end of my walk, I had almost turned around but decided, instead, to venture across the street into a different neighborhood. I had checked the time, calculated how long I had before my son returned from work, and decided on an extra mile. It was, after all, a gorgeous day with bright sun, a slight breeze, and flowers blooming everywhere.

As I walked, birds sang, but one song in particular stood out. The song was both foreign and familiar—not one I recognized from the birds in my own backyard, but one I had heard before. It continued to sing as I grew closer. I looked up toward the sound, and at the very top of the tree, I spotted orange plumage against the spring-green leaves. An oriole!

In an instant, I was right back in the heat of a summer long, long ago. My dad had a cat living at his workplace, and the cat had attempted to catch an oriole. Unfortunately, the oriole had not emerged unscathed. It had a broken wing and could no longer fly.

Dad brought the bird home in a shoebox. From somewhere in our house, he scrounged up a birdcage, and he lined the bottom with newspapers. He got out a roll of white medical tape, and he set to work carefully removing the bird from the box and taping the tips of its wings together. This would hold the broken wing in place, and prevent the bird from thrashing about. He placed the bird in the cage with some birdseed and some water and placed the cage on a table on our enclosed front porch.

That bird lived on our front porch for what now seems like most of that summer. At first, every time we walked out the door onto the porch, the bird would panic and flit around the cage trying to get away from us. But after a while, the bird calmed a bit. We discovered that it preferred fresh berries and fruit to birdseed, and the sweet black raspberries from our backyard bushes became its main food.

After the requisite amount of time, Dad announced that it was time for us to let the bird go. I am not sure how he knew “the requisite amount of time,” but I believe he had consulted a local bird expert about broken wings and healing and bird care.

On the day of the announcement, Dad took the bird from the cage and painstakingly worked to remove the medical tape. He worked the sticky residue from the bird’s feathers with some harmless solvent—again, most likely a tip he had gotten from his bird expert source. We put the bird in a box and took it to a forested area of town near a pond and an open field. We parked the car and carried the box across the field toward the wood line. Dad set the box on the grass, removed the cover, and gently lifted the bird out. He held him for one final time.

“Here we go,” he announced as we all hoped and crossed our fingers that the bird’s wing had healed. Dad held the bird out in front of him at arm’s length and gave him a gentle toss away from him. The bird thrust out its wings and dipped toward the ground, but about a foot from the grass, it lifted up, flapped its likely stiff wings, and soared up into a tree where it landed on a branch. We all exhaled breath we hadn’t known we were holding in. Our bird sat on the branch, a bright orange spot, watching us for just a moment. Then, it flew away, farther into the woods and out of our sight.

And here was an oriole, serenading me as I walked the streets of this neighborhood. When I got back to the tree where it sat, I slowed and paused to search the tree to see this beautiful bird one more time before I went home. But the bird was uncomfortable with my proximity. It flew from the tree, its orange body bright against the clear blue sky. For a moment, it seemed to pause mid-flight. Then it flitted to and fro, completing a little dance before it flew off to sing from a distant tree.

That bird was an incredible gift to end my week. It brought me a few moments with Dad in my memories from a long time ago.

Moments, Masks, and Missions

There is much to be said of the experience of living life. This whole slowing down thing has changed the focus of so many of us. Before the coronavirus shut-down, we were focused on some imaginary mission—reaching our goals, our children’s educational and athletic achievements, amassing money—that we forgot what it’s like to live. We hustled our children from one activity to another. They played baseball and soccer, participated in Scouts and dance, they painted and played a musical instrument. Until that all came to a screeching halt.

And now, we’re faced with a different reality. What would happen if we let our children (and ourselves) have some unstructured time? What would happen if we all had time to think and breathe and not be constantly scheduled for every minute of the day? What if we gave our children time to come up with their own activities? Time to fill in whatever way they see fit. What would happen then?

If we continue to schedule our lives so full—to carry out some imaginary mission of productivity at all cost, we are not allowing ourselves to live life. We are not teaching our children what it is like to pay attention to the world around them and be with themselves. We are not allowing them to experience what life throws at them. We don’t expect them to reach because we are doing the reaching for them. We are not expecting them to figure out solutions to their problems because we are finding solutions before they even have problems. We are not teaching them to fit their mission to their life. Because they are living our mission and not their own.

This weekend, my son became a college graduate. Just like that. No fanfare, no diploma, no walk across the stage, no ceremony. One minute he was hunkered over the computer finishing up assignments that had been four years in the making, and the next minute, he was a college graduate.

And on Saturday morning, we were faced with the task of creating a special day and making our own memories, however simplistic and disappointing. He donned his cap and gown, and we ventured out into the windy, snowy, never-a-dull-weather-moment that is New England in May, and we took pictures. Proud college graduation pictures. In some, he is wearing a face mask, lest we ever forget what upended his senior year and his college graduation. And when we went inside, we feasted on homemade chocolate cake.

Life is not in all the things we try to cram into our schedules. Life is in the moments—in the deep daily living. It’s in the things that go wrong and the manner in which we rise to the challenge to address them. It’s in the ways we grow and the lessons we learn. Life is not in the mission to accomplish, but in the mission to learn and improve and grow. Life is in the mission to live fully and to make the best of every situation.

Lessons from Lockdown: Logic, Life, and Laughter

This period of lockdown has offered us a unique opportunity to shift our focus and reevaluate who we are and what is important. It has offered us a unique perspective on the things we hold dear. As many people sort, declutter, and simplify their homes, they might begin to sense that what’s important lies in the little things, the intangible things, the spiritual-rather-than-material things.

Logic: Today, I almost started an email, “I hope you and your family are doing well in lockdown.” Now, no matter how true and relevant that is, I couldn’t help but think it sounded like the family was in jail. So I rewrote my opening sentence. The person who received the email will never know of my near faux pas, but I definitely appreciate the thought that I have to put into writing a normal statement after working from home for nearly two months.

Life: Yesterday, I helped my son move out of his college dorm for the final time. This was not the way it was supposed to be—returning to a room that was a time-capsule, untouched since the mid-March day he came home for a week of spring break; moving out with almost no one else on campus; not having the much-anticipated celebrations of scholarship, graduation, and ending ceremonies. It was a two-hour time slot of “pack up your stuff and get out.” When I drove away, he stayed behind, saying good-bye to a senior-year-interrupted in the way that was appropriate for him. As I drove home, I shed a few tears for him—for the proper end of college he wouldn’t have; for the memories he wouldn’t make in favor of others that would define him and his entire cohort of age-peers. And as I drove, a bald eagle flew overhead as an illustration of the way he will soar once the tethers have been released. It will be a different world by then, but these young adults are in the perfect position to take it on and run with it.

Laughter: Our house is regularly filled with laughter, even in the tough times. These days, we could easily abandon laughter altogether in favor of the dark and dreary, but where would that lead us? Nowhere good, no doubt. So we laugh. On a recent afternoon, I was cutting the hair of my younger son, exercising the clippers that I bought when the boys were young to save money on haircuts. I hadn’t cut anyone’s hair in ten years, at least. But this kid likes his hair short, so he asked me cut it. At one point, in a move that was far from professional, I realized the cord was hanging in his face. “Sorry about the cord,” I told him to let him know my technique was far from polished.

“That’s okay,” he told me. “I’ll mention it in your Yelp review though.” Ha! If I open my own pop-up barber shop, that would not be the worst thing my Yelp reviews would say.

We do our best to hold on to the lessons we are learning. And we keep laughing because the laughter keeps us positive and the positive keeps us moving forward. And forward is the best way to get through this.

{Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash}