This morning, I texted a photo of these oranges to a friend and included the label, “Bird food”.
I knew she’d get it.
We’ve traded our successes – and failures – when it comes to attracting birds to our gardens and feeders for years now. It’s not a competitive sport, usually.
Last year though?
I had a massive, glass gallon jar chock full of dried mealworms because I’d heard that bluebirds love them. I couldn’t have live mealworms due to a long-ago established rule (from back when I had to buy live crickets for my children’s’ frogs) that I would never have ‘live food’ in my house again (yes, that goes for lobsters (I just can’t do it!))).
Anyway, do you know what?
I put out meal worms every dang day for months and nothin’.
Not one dang bluebird.
But my friend? Oh, she goes and gets them and puts them out and, in about thirty seconds (fine, it might have been a minute), she had bluebirds.
I tried to be supportive.
Now, this year.
I promise to get back to birds in a minute.
As spring came, we were all hunkered down with stay at home orders. It became clear that visits and/or trips and/or plans and/or jobs would be cancelled. Eight people I care about were diagnosed with the virus over the course of a few weeks and, at times, life at home felt like sitting in a hospital waiting room… except you couldn’t hug, or hold hands, or physically sit with the other someones who were aching. Family and friends who work in the medical field reported in with their own stories. The media shifted into high gear, anxiety and chaos their paths to ratings and cash. Fear seemed high, low, medium… and everywhere.
As weeks became a month and then that month expanded to more, something relatively ‘small’ happened. I say ‘small’ in comparison to getting sick (or trying to heal those who were), or losing one’s livelihood (and ability to put food on the table).
Gabe’s graduation was cancelled for the end of May.
He is the last of our three and a half kids to graduate after four years of college, the youngest of Granny and Grampa’s thirteen (and a half) grandchildren. It would have meant a lot to them to see him walk across the stage. Us too.
Fear often masquerades as mean. As colleges and high schools cancelled their ceremonies, I remember reading a comment, somewhere, that went something like, “All you people grieving not seeing your precious cherubs graduate need to get a grip”.
You’ve probably seen similar comments where people try to recast someone else’s fear or grief or sorrow as something trite. I knew then, and I know now, that empathy isn’t finite. I can empathize with those suffering with loss, or dying from illness, and also have compassion for the person longing for normality in the form of a haircut. The proverbial pantry shelves are always stocked, then restocked, with empathy. Just take what you need, and graciously offer some to those who need it.
It’s even free (bonus!)
Initially, I took the cancellation of the graduation in stride. I told myself it wasn’t that big a deal, compared to everything else that was going on. I adopted the Brit’s stiff upper lip attitude to it (though failed miserably at the accent, which sounded more Irish mixed with French… and possibly Jamaican).
But about two weeks ago, on his Some Good News Network (SGN), Jon Krasinski threw a graduation party for those who wouldn’t get a graduation ceremony this year. He even had degrees/diplomas that you could print out with your graduate’s name on it. And so I did:
I told Gabe all about it, and forwarded him his degree (he seemed appreciative).
I saved my viewing of the episode, which was posted late at night, for the next morning. I was really looking forward to it. I poured myself a cup of coffee, went to my desk, and made my way to YouTube.
The intro came up, and then – after a few housecleaning items that I smiled and/or laughed at – Mr. Krasinski got to the main event – the graduation. The music swelled, and the very first photos of graduates, in their caps and gowns, came up on the screen.
And I lost it.
I’m talking tears, head in hands, gulps for air, lost it.
Now, a good therapist – or even one who is just ‘alright’ – would tell me that I wasn’t just losing it over Gabe’s cancelled graduation, but was purging all the anxiety and stress and fear and uncertainty I’d pushed off over the preceding months, while I was busy being strong and supportive and research-y and guide-ish for those I love.
And they would be somewhat right.
But in there?
I really did want to see Gabe graduate with his class. I wanted to celebrate with him, see him move his tassel… throw his cap in the air. We worked hard, saved hard, for him to be able to go to the school he chose, he worked hard to get his degree and move even closer toward the man he is becoming. A whole lifetime of experiences – his and ours – is packed into such a milestone.
It’s a thing.
I had to sit with it for a bit… well, that and the whole worldwide pandemic thing. And I had to do a little downshifting.
When things go sideways, when tough stuff shows up, my challenge is to figure out how much downshifting my brain needs to do (from the blistering pace it assumes during anxiety or fear or grief or…) to be able to be present, and appreciate wonder and joy.
I believe each is always available to us.
It is we who are not always available to them.
Each are salves for the soul. Downshifting can bring them into focus.
This time, they came in the form of a bird.
I belong to a group called ‘Maine Birds’ – it’s all photos and info pertaining to – yep – birds here in Maine (not a flamingo to be seen (so far)). In late March and early April, I saw a few folks wondering when certain migratory birds would return to Maine – hummingbirds, barn swallows, indigo buntings…
One bird, in particular, kept popping up – the Baltimore Oriole.
I have never seen a Baltimore Oriole, in all it’s orange-y splendor, in person.
As April came, the anticipation heated up. Then, May was almost here and people excitedly posted that ‘their’ orioles had arrived! The secret, they said, were oranges and grape jelly.
Welp, on May 1, I cut two oranges in half and squished them onto my bird feeders.
I became certain this was going to be the 2020 version of mealworms (but better smelling).
I changed the ‘old’ oranges – pulp intact – every two days.
Nothing. Not even ants.
Then, a week or so after I watched the SGN graduation episode, I saw an orange… on my orange.
Just a flash, and it was gone.
I smiled, held on to it… this small thing.
And then, the next day, there he was… and there she was.
A pair of Baltimore Orioles.
They simply… showed up.
They have no idea that we humans are stumbling through chaos right now.
They just like oranges.
And, because they do, they will build their home, raise their family, and maybe even return next year.
I began to marvel.
Here’s my new friend (Isn’t he terrific?)
Gabe will pack up and drive home with his long time friend, and fellow graduate, Connor, in a little over a week.
This bird, and his sweetheart, have given my brain room to figure out how to celebrate, simply and wonderfully, in the midst of this strangeness.
Wonder and joy on the (startlingly orange) wing.
Thanks for readin’.
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