Chickadees

My friend Marian and I went for a walk in the woods yesterday. The sun lit up the patches of snow and we shuffled our way through the icy spots.

Lots of folks were doing the same, and it was with great joy that we greeted them on the trail. It felt like long lost friends united within the beauty of the world.

Marian had been on this journey before, and early on our trek she stopped in a quiet, sheltered place. She listened, and so did I. There was the voice of a cardinal. I remembered it from way back in my past. But Marian was listening for something else: the call of the chickadee. It wasn’t there. So we walked on.

Sunlight flowed through the bare branches as we approached a crossing of the paths. A young family came by with sunflower seeds in their hands. Marian was similarly prepared. Three young arms extended but no birdies plopped down.

Soon it was just Marian and me at the crossroads. Palms up, we waited.

:::

A touch. A landing. I moved my eyes down and to the left and there stood a tiny fluffball of feathers, weighing virtually nothing … but so very alive. He or she bit down on a seed, and then poof! Off to the dining room.

I was in awe. This bird had graced me with their presence and then left. This puny human had no power to control the proceedings. There were moments of here and some of not here. Both are lovely.

Marian and I welcomed many visitors over the next half hour – some tiny winged ones and some heavier ones, clothed in their parkas. Among them was a teenaged girl, accompanied by her grandma. Marian offered the gift of seed. “Can I?” she asked. Grandma nodded. The girl’s arm went horizontal and she waited. I could feel her heart beating fast.

Soon there was a call from further up the trail. “Hurry up!” The girl jerked to leave and both Marian and I silently willed her to stay. She lingered a few seconds more …

A heavenly visitor descended to her palm. The girl’s mouth opened wide and all of us shared in her wonder. It was the moment of the day.

The girl walked up the trail, turning her head to wave goodbye, and to show us a radiant smile. All it took to create such a sweet space was a handful of sunflower seeds and a few kind words.

Being Humbled

The warning message appeared on the dashboard display: “Washer fluid low”. No problem. Even though my car Ruby is new to me, I’d been down this road many times before. Once I get to school, I’ll whip out the jug of fluid and get that sign out of my space.

How many vehicles have I had in my life? I bet fifteen. Fifteen hoods to raise, fifteen reservoirs of washer fluid to locate, fifty years of driving.

There’ll be a button or lever low on the dash to get the hood open. And there it is, with its little car diagram. Flick! Open with a click. (Gosh … I just have so much life experience!)

I walk to the front of Ruby and feel for the lever that will raise the hood. It’ll be a small thing right in the middle. I’ll get my finger underneath it and push up.

I groped along the gap between hood and body. Nothing. A second sweep produced the same result. Being a mature, adaptable type of human, I anticipated that the magic lever was probably way to the right or way to the left – unusual, but my history of rich life experiences would see me through.

Nothing again … and again I say nothing.

No, Bruce. You don’t need to consult the manual. Your mature intelligence will solve the problem.

Two minutes later I’m on page 502, viewing a diagram that indicates a lever smack dab in the middle of the hood edge. What? This dumb Honda manual is lying!

I felt and felt and felt. There’s no ******* lever anywhere!

I took a break, leaning against Ruby’s driver door while the school buses spilled out their young contents. I was hoping that no kid would approach while I was wallowing in ineptitude. Thank goodness for small miracles.

Back to the redness of Ruby’s hood. Back to the gap. Fingers in slow motion left to right … and then right to left. (Sigh)

And then, something tiny nudged my hand. I lifted up. The gap did not expand. Without thought, I moved my fingers to the right.

Release … letting go … opening.

For fifty years I’ve done it one way. Today Honda had a different idea. There is much to learn in this life.

Animation

No, I’m not talking about Pixar here.

Many moons ago, someone asked me what my favourite words were. I sat back and listened to what was inside … and two bubbled up. The first shone brightly in me, and still does – love. The second was a shock – animation. Huh? Where did that come from, and what the heck did I mean?

Once I was a teenager in Grade 13. One more year and I’d be a high school graduate. My job was to take four yearlong courses, each culminating in a June exam worth 100% (!) of the mark. Incomprehensibly to me now, I chose Latin … a dead language.

It was so strange to see as the year unfolded that Latin was becoming my favourite subject. I loved seeing the roots of many English words, and the meanings often opened my eyes. Fifty years later, I swim in my love of language.

So … animation. It comes from the Latin verb animare.

To bring life to
To breathe into
To blow
To inspire
To rouse
To refresh

It’s up to me. What do I want to bring alive? Who do I want to bring alive? I suppose the answer could be “nothing and no one”. But that’s not true to who I am.

Many or few years remain for me on Earth. I will continue to exhale into the world.

Chilling

At the back of the school there’s a bench. It’s a perfect spot to place an adult bum. This morning before the bell rang, the kids were told “tarmac only” since the grassed part of the yard was oozing with mud from the recent rain. So the asphalt was crammed with kids.

I took off my mitt, wiped off a layer of water, and sat down. Some kids seemed revolted by this act, as it would surely result in wet rear end syndrome. Inside this particular adult, I chuckled about how so many athletic kids flinched at the thought of water invasion. Three children did join me on the bench, no doubt safe in the knowledge that what becomes wet will later become dry.

For five minutes, we seated folks and a few standing ones talked about I don’t remember what. All I know is that it was silly.

A Grade 1 girl came up to me. “Please sing the song.” It took me a few seconds but I finally figured out what she wanted … for me to recite Twas The Night Before Christmas, just as I had done for the classes in December.

I looked her in the eyes and solemnly shared “Oh, I forget how to do that. Every year I have to study the song before saying it to you.”

(A very turned down mouth from the little one)

I leaned towards her … and started blasting out the fast version of Twas. Her eyes went wide and the other kids held on for the ride. I do believe a fine time was had by all. I was a mite rusty but that didn’t matter. It actually made my reciting more fun.

A few minutes later I engaged in a staring contest with the same young lady and two of her friends. I lost every time. I guess old folks blink a lot.

Then the bell. From Grade 1 to Grade 6, the kids tootled off to one of three entrances. I lingered a bit on the smooth wood and thanked my lucky stars for the privilege of hanging around open eyes, easy laughs, and emerging hearts.

Flavours

Down Main Street, there is a convenience store. In the warmer months, the cooler in there is brimming with tubs of ice cream. So many colours, so many flavours. I’m partial to chocolate peanut butter, especially if I can score some big chunks of yumminess. Next door might be a tub of rum raisin (which, according to my extreme bias, is absolutely revolting). There’s probably twelve tubs, glowing in their differentness from each other.

Further down the main drag is the village’s coffee shop, complete with a horseshoe-shaped lunch counter. The wraparound is usually populated by men. The female regulars prefer a nearby table.

One local guy stopped coming to the diner a few weeks ago. Rumours abound, but in any event he just doesn’t come by anymore for a coffee. I miss him. At times he’s ornery and stubborn but he’s also very intelligent, with opinions that often get me thinking.

A far quieter regular died last year. He was a gentle soul who quietly ate his breakfast, usually responding to neighbours like me with very few words and a gentle smile.

At the other end of the restaurant, near the bulletin board, two women often sat together for conversation. Now it’s just one woman. Her friend also died recently, taking a twinkle of the eye to another realm.

Then there’s the Grade 5/6 class – 24 children. On the days when only 23 seats are occupied, there is a gap. Whether it’s a bouncing kid or mostly a silent one, there is a loss, a missing piece. For four days last week, I was sick and missing. On Friday, I sensed that some kids felt it important that I was back.

***

It’s when your absence leaves a vacuum
that people miss you
Unforgettable is about creating your own space
a space that would be left bare
in your absence

Nesta Jojoe Erskine

Fiery Words

And how do I do that … set the world on fire? Somehow the essence of me needs to escape my body and fly out across the land. There’s a presence I can show my neighbours – quiet eyes embracing the eyes of others. A hand reaching out to comfort and be kin. An action here and there that shows I am with you.

Another vestige of communion are the words that travel from me to you. Some soft words, some surging words … all vibrant words. Here is a long list – each one with an edge, vibrating like a fine tuning fork, zooming between beings at supersonic speed. See if you recognize yourself in what follows. See if you can feel the fire.

heavenly triumph unbelievable legendary epic mesmerizing sublime stunning alluring overcome relentless master delightful deep gripping intense ultimate emerging untapped glamorous decadent shocking release strange blast light captivate riveting honest surefire obsessed ravenous magic revolutionary reveal unique delirious launch uncovered free now unleashed barrage forever huge create awesome heartwarming authentic miracle new transform bona fide swooning essential unlimited tenacious stop rowdy tantalizing exposed promise wild unseen priceless weird belonging crazy tricks irresistible naked fierce bold unforgettable alive ironclad ridiculous sacred dangerous fantasy profound inspiring definitive remarkable explosive spellbinding rare suddenly hidden unadulterated ignite exquisite uncontrollable catapult brilliant defying beautiful massive forbidden hilarious secret startling unconventional incredible genuine thrilling undeniable extraordinary sensational intriguing gigantic breathtaking astonishing fascinating gorgeous effortless amazing adorable dazzling unstoppable astounding

Mary and You

Mary Oliver is a poet. She died last year. Perhaps I should ramble through the details of her life, the awards she’s won, a few choice words from those who appreciate her dearly. I could mention the scholarly papers which have analyzed her style and messages.

Or …

I could leave all that alone
And simply have Mary knock on your door …

The Summer Day

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean
the one who has flung herself out of the grass
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

Soaring

Right now my feet are dangling over the edge of my Lazy Boy chair. My stomach is heavy and my eyes feel like closing. I’ve been sick the last few days.

I wonder if it has to be this way.

Can I create flying right now? Can I rise above the vague nausea and lift into the sky? Can I feel the power of my wings pulsing down, pulling me upwards? The wind whistling through my feathers?

Can I look downwards to the sweep of the land and all the folks walking on it? Can I then lift my head to the far horizon and the mysteries that lie beyond?

Or am I stuck in the pull of the body … the pain and the weakness? I know. I’ll ask a friend:

He says “Come join me on the currents of air. There is much to discover, dear human.”

The Span of Life

There was a time when Coco was a young girl. Her father sang her songs and played guitar. She was happy.

Then there was a rift between mom and dad. He left, and the music ended. For succeeding generations, singing and playing was always forbidden.

If Coco missed the joyous songs, she never said. The family made shoes for a living, and that became her purpose, along with caring for her children.

So says the film Coco.

Now Coco is very old. She doesn’t make shoes anymore. She almost forgets what was the singing was like … until her great-grandson Miguel came along. He didn’t like making shoes. He wanted to be a musician. So he sang to great-grandma. And a smile appeared.

***

There is a book called Love You Forever, by Robert Munsch. A young woman gives birth to her son. She rocks him and sings these words:

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My baby you’ll be

She keeps singing to him throughout the years … to a kid, a teen, a young adult, and an older one. It is her joy to do so.

In the sweep of time, mom becomes very old and very sick. She needs her son, and he needs his mom. So he holds her, rocks her, and sings:

I’ll love you forever
I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living
My mommy you’ll be

What Is Hidden?

Jack Kornfield is a Buddhist teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center near San Francisco. In his book The Wise Heart, he tells us of a wonder:

In a large temple north of Thailand’s ancient capital, Sukotai, there once stood an enormous and ancient clay Buddha. Though not the most handsome or refined work of Thai Buddhist art, it had been cared for over a period of five hundred years and had become revered for its sheer longevity. Violent storms, changes of government, and invading armies had come and gone, but the Buddha endured.

At one point, however, the monks who tended the temple noticed that the statue had begun to crack and would soon be in need of repair and repainting. After a stretch of particularly hot, dry weather, one of the cracks became so wide that a curious monk took his flashlight and peered inside. What shone back at him was a flash of brilliant gold! Inside this plain old statue, the temple residents discovered one of the largest and most luminous gold images of Buddha ever created in Southeast Asia. Now uncovered, the golden Buddha draws throngs of devoted pilgrims from all over Thailand.

The monks believe that this shining work of art had been covered in plaster and clay to protect it during times of conflict and unrest. In much the same way, each of us has encountered threatening situations that lead us to cover our innate nobility.

Just as the people of Sukotai had forgotten about the golden Buddha, we too have forgotten our essential nature. Much of the time we operate from the protective layer. The primary aim of Buddhist psychology is to help us see beneath this armoring and bring out our original goodness, called our buddhanature.

This is a first principle of Buddhist psychology: see the inner nobility and beauty of all human beings.

The statue stands ten feet tall. It is made of solid gold and weighs five-and-a-half tons.