Friday, September 14, 2007

Book-ended By Birds: Notes from the Road

Friends, This is a serious work-in-progress, but I send out as blog entry, as prayer, as witness to the mess of life, love and being on a journey:
1. Notes on birds and bird poop.

Last night, I parked my car behind the "King and I" underneath a gigantic tree filled with birds. I was early to meet a friend, so when I got out, I decided to just stand underneath this elm or oak -- or whatever it was -- and just listen. It was beautiful. This choir of winged creatures, singing me into the evening, into my date with Ms. Sharifa, into a space of contentment, thinking: "No matter what is going on in my heart, my head, on this woeful planet of ours, it can't be that bad that this bird music might provide a kind of levity, calm, in this moment. Yes. Thank you, God, for this music."

I was there maybe five minutes, before I ventured in to belly-up and meet my girl, Rifa.
When I left, after a lot of much needed conversation and heartfelt reflection with this dear former student, now dear adult friend, I saw that my car had a splattering of bird poop on it. It was dark, it seemed to hardly matter, and I was focused and heading home.

Okay. But wait! In the full light of day, my friends, as I departed for work this morning: PLEASE! I got to see fully the array of SHIT that those beautiful birds dropped all over my car! It was amazing! That I hadn't really noticed it the night before made me laugh. But waking to this: seeing the splattering in the sunshine, I had to wonder:

I wrote this text message then: "Parked under a tree full of birds last night. Amazing music. Today: car covered in shit! These things I love so much, are also quite messy. It all sings, speaks to me." I sent it off to some pals.

And: It's true, true, true. I love the feathered creatures. I just don't have this same kind of affection for what they drop out of their bodies.

My friend Emily, Assistant Principal at first ring Suburban Middle School, text back: "Oh yes! Feeling same way at school today!"

And that inspired me to write, "Messy, messy, messy! Don't take shit personally! Birds must poop and sing."

Isn't it the case with all of us? Like middle schoolers, we are all making our way, wreaking havoc like the birds. It's sort of our job as humans. To sing, fly, flutter about, and "handle our business." No one ever said this was easy or without mess! And why should I, should anyone get caught up in the stuff that comes flailing out of the beloved bodies and beings of others? There's no need!

I like the typical, practical response to bird droppings on a car windshield:
See the stuff,
know it's there,
wash it off, and
keep driving.

This is the first lesson to myself for day.

2. Note on Road Construction.

Trying to get my body home after work was really interesting. If seeing the "poop" and steering clear of it was lesson numero uno of my day, lesson numero dos reinforced this navigational teaching with the Universe challenging my methods of getting home. My typical road and pathway was closed.

I recognize I work very well on autopilot as a driver. (Don't we all when it comes to our well-worn routine-routes home? We can tune out to conscious decision making about turns and the time, focus on the news, or sing along with the radio or cd, or just let our brains go fuzzy to dinner or God, or whatever call us in this auto-drive time.)

But not today. Today, I had to PAY ATTENTION! Because my traditional road to 1188 Juno was closed! And not just closed, but seriously, seriously, BLOCKED OFF WITH LIKE LITTLE Way through or around, or any suggested alternative route!!!

Let me back up a tid bit. The parkway to my house is under construction. It has been for weeks. No biggie. I have other ways of getting home. But this is the catcher: I haven't really taken them, because when push came to shove, my route hadn't REALLY be shut down. NO. The crews put up "Road Closed" signs, but they weren't really reinforced. I tested this the first night, inching past the orange and white markers and found it super easy to continue on down Edgcumbe. Sure, the road was ripped up, but it wasn't dangerous, and it sure as heck didn't seem CLOSED to me. I just had to roll over dirt and rocks. Not a problem for my little all wheel drive CR-V!

Yeah, so, if I pause here: I get it! I've not been heeding the signs. They said closed, yet I was able to pass. For weeks now: I've been getting through, not having to shift up my routine.
ACK! Not today!

I approached the "road closed" barricade with the same confidence, casualness, arrogance (?) even: "It says that, but I know otherwise."

Ha! But dang it all! I bypassed the newly placed Mountain of dirt, noting that things were a bit different, and thinking, "oh! it's great to see them bringing in more material, progress." As I drove down the road, I literally ran into a wall of dirt. Turns out it was closed. IS CLOSED. At least this section.

I thought, "Okay, I'll just skinny around through an alley, and continue on toward Juno. I only have a short ways to go." aha! Yeah, but when I turned off and headed down a side-street and alley, again: A WALL OF DIRT!! Right at the end of this back-way, there it was, plus an orange and yellow tape pulled across the passage way.

I turned around, and attempted again - this time down another alley, a block over. But it too presented me with another blockade. I was 45-point turning myself, my car around in these under construction alleys, and it wasn't super fun. In fact, it was the opposite of fun. I was frustrated. And really: sort of lost! Who ever tried to get themselves home strickly through back alleys, behind neighbors homes, from 6 blocks away? Goodness! It's nuts what you run into back there!

Suffice it to say, I navigated in a round, round, twisty-back-road-route-way through the construction, seemingly by myself, and found Lexington Parkway, finally! Six blocks the other side of where I wanted to be, from what was my DIRECT PATH, dang it! But a street that I knew would get me home!

Ahhhhhh! The metaphor knocks me on my butt!

3. Note On Wild Geese.

I had to go for a walk when I finally got home. Work off my steam or frustration, and crack open the message: "You want to travel straight, Melissa? You want to find your home, your center, contentment, safety, without facing the poop? Without making any kind of changes in how you navigate? No! This life business is not so simple!"

I did my tonglen breathing thing, practicing the Buddhist meditation as I walked: inhaling frustrations, exhaling love and compassion. I started with myself, then moved to loved ones also facing frustrations and dilemmas, then inched outward to the strangers I passed by, and finally- to those who are my nemesis - I sent LOVE! It felt good, and by the time I got a mile into my walk, about half way, I got my second great bird experience of the day.

Above my head, two geese flew, side by side, and just to make sure that they got my attention: they seemed to be honking at me. "Yo! Melissa! Up here! Check us out! We won't poop on you! Just look up!"

The presence of these beautiful moving birds was like a sweet balm, or a lovely book end to my day of noting things. The poem "Wild Geese" by Mary Oliver immediately came to mind. The lines that I've been meditating on, (even sending out in text recently):
"You do not have to be good...You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves."
flooded my heart. It was like the most beautiful offering of the world, of God, of Nature back to me, saying: "Don't stress. Just see. Witness. Receive, Love. Be flexible, Be open, Don't judge, Be on the journey, be in the journey. Be like the birds."

I"ll close with Ms. Oliver's entire poem, and this thought:

Love the birds, the mess of life, and soft animals of your own bodies!



Wild Geese

by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver

published by Atlantic Monthly Press

© Mary Oliver

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