Holding the Recklessness

For Cindy

Last night, while making a simple dinner of rice, peas, and chard (fresh from my garden, no less), I heard the familiar shout of crows up to no good in my yard. It seems that hanging dual birdfeeders has only given the crows new territory and food sources over which to bully the other birds in the neighborhood. I’ve learned to pay no mind to such cawing about because the complex hierarchy of neighborhood birds is really none of my business, but when something hit my kitchen window, the birds caught my attention and I turned around. On the narrow brick ledge hugging the outside of my wide window, I saw a little starling—not an adult but too big to be a baby–fluttering around, confused and scared, backed against the glass wall by those big bad meanie crows.

I paused a moment, watching the downy thing hop and scurry along the bricks, seeking refuge, safety—something more familiar than that perplexing wall of glass. I had the left side of the window mostly open, even though it had been raining all day and now, by 7 pm or so, the coolness of the late spring evening was already creeping into my house, making everything feel damp. When the immature bird made his way over to the open section, he pushed desperately against the screen, squawking and screeching in frustration. As I made my way out the front door I could see three overfed crows looming above the scene from my upstairs neighbor’s deck, silently showing their disappointment and disapproval of my intervention in a situation they obviously felt was not my concern; I was messin’ where I shouldn’t a-been messin’.

Upon seeing me come near, the teenaged starling hopped down to the ground and then stood frozen puffing or panting or whatever birds do to make their chests puff up and down so quickly. I wasn’t sure if it was hurt or just scared, and though pretty much every prior experience with wounded animals has ended sadly, I crouched down to scoop up the little guy in my hands. For a moment it seemed like he would let me, fixed as he was on my gaze and so tired from all that flapping and hopping and fear.

But just as suddenly as the crisis had landed in my yard, the whole scene flew away. That little bird flew haphazardly into a nearby fence, stopped once more for a rest, and then lifted up into the air beyond my sight, taking those three meanie crows with him. I’d wanted to help, wanted to bring that little creature into my palms and comfort him. But it wasn’t for me to resolve. That little bird flew away on his own two wings, presumably to safety but who can be sure of such things?

The sound of the bird flapping and smashing against the glass and then the screen of my window played over and over in my head all night, repeating and reverberating with an almost obsessive rhythm. I tried to go to bed early, but as is so often the case on these nights, my brain just wouldn’t let me rest. I wondered if I’d do better with the tomatoes in my garden this year, if it would rain through the night, if I’d ever finish this novel, how long I’d have to wait for the world stop seeming so cruel.

This morning I woke to the sound of raindrops pittering and splatting against my bedroom window, the windowsill wet and windy where I’d left it open a crack last night.
The third morning in a row, supposedly the last of the spring rains before summer finally—allegedly—arrives. I had my doubts about the fruitfulness of this season, to be honest. It’s been a bit of a rough patch around here, weatherwise and otherwise, and even though I’ve managed to keep my own spirits mostly afloat, I’ve been hurting for the people I love who have lost someone close recently, or not so recently. It’s almost worse–the sympathy pangs of loss I feel for my friends and family, than any kind of pain I could feel for myself. It reminds me how I felt nine springs ago, missing my dad for my own reasons but missing him for my mom and brothers as well. It wasn’t just that I wouldn’t get him back, it was that none of us would.

As I walked Little Miss Mona around the neighborhood before leaving for work, the rain had slowed to a mist and all the birds were out again, chirping and chippering away with one another. The air was good and clean, and even though most of the lilac blossoms are already on their way out for the season, my #3 favorite flowers made their first appearance of the year: Peonies. Seeing those tight little buds poking out from an overgrown shrub one block from my house was all I needed to remind me that, even though we don’ always see it happening, birds fly away to meet their destiny and the flowers continue to grow. Spring eventually arrives, at least in some form, and life always marches on. So little, so very little of it is for us to mess with or try to control. There’s a freedom in that, you know–in not having to try so hard to control things. After all, there’s only so much we can do to hold the recklessness.

My dearest friend, Cindy, lost her beloved sister, Dana, almost two weeks ago. I share this poem, Cindy’s favorite, with you now in Dana’s honor.

Peonies

By Mary Oliver
This morning the green fists of the peonies are getting ready
   to break my heart
     as the sun rises,
        as the sun strokes them with his old, buttery fingers

and they open–
   pools of lace,
      white and pink–
       and all day the black ants climb over them,

boring their deep and mysterious holes
    into the curls,
      craving the sweet sap,
        taking it away

to their dark, underground cities–
   and all day
      under the shifty wind,
       as in a dance to the great wedding,

the flowers bend their bright bodies,
   and tip their fragrance to the air,
     and rise,
       their red stems holding

all that dampness and recklessness
    gladly and lightly,
      and there it is again–
        beauty the brave, the exemplary,

blazing open.
    Do you love this world?
      Do you cherish your humble and silky life?
       Do you adore the green grass, with its terror beneath?

Do you also hurry, half-dressed and barefoot, into the garden,
   and softly,
      and exclaiming of their dearness,
       fill your arms with the white and pink flowers,

with their honeyed heaviness, their lush trembling,
    their eagerness
      to be wild and perfect for a moment, before they are
        nothing, forever?

 

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