unburdened by the glare and gaze of day
Hello. This post is about Death & Birds.
There is a Tawny Owl who has taken to spending a portion of each evening perched in the woods in our garden—announcing himself, over and over. His call is equal parts haunting and comforting (as I myself aspire to be). Sometimes, we will turn off all the lights and listen, pretending that it is us to whom he calls. We are beckoned into the darkness which he so casually inhabits, a place rich with life unburdened by the glare and gaze of day.
Earlier this week, in Hyde Park, we were saying hello to some dogs when we noticed that one was wearing a little yellow jacket, which read ‘I need some space’. The dog’s human explained that there is an initiative where dogs will wear a yellow lead, badge or coat signifying that, for whatever reason, they’d prefer not to be engaged with. And apparently it’s very well respected. “How wonderful!” I said, brimming with envy.
As we snaked around the Serpentine lake, I wondered whether such an initiative could take off for people. Whether a badge or other signifier might be worn by those who are grieving, or even just by those who desperately need their day to be kind. Then again, perhaps that’s all of us—none are without burden.
The Sun came out today. Typically, this would result in euphoria after so many grey days—but the headache is here and the brightness has been making my eye sockets hurt. I read that Owl's eyes are around 100 times more sensitive to light than humans, hence them being such excellent night hunters. Perhaps I am becoming Owl1.
I find there to be something most confronting about being looked dead in the eye by an Owl. Their unwavering gaze suggests that they are seeing you for exactly who you are; shadows, secrets, faults and all—an experience which is as exciting as it is devastating. The quality of their gaze reminds me of a phenomena which can happen when someone is dying, when a very particular type of silence fills a room—one which feels as though it were made only for truth to be spoken into.
As I was driving to work yesterday there was a large lorry blocking the top of our narrow lane. The driver sat, spellbound by his phone. I sighed and got out of the car, and as I walked towards the lorry I donned my terribly-polite-so-sorry-to-bother-you-even-though-you-are-the-one-inconveniencing-me mask. Five minutes, and some soul-destroying banter, later I was on my way, wondering how the scenario would have played out had I been more Owl, and had instead gone and held the driver in fixed and unrelenting gaze, waiting silently for the realisation of his error to wash over him.
Later, through the radio, I learned that we have, on average, 70,000 thoughts a day. So few? I thought, wasting one. Then, using another, I wondered how many an Owl has. Or a Sparrow. Or a Long-Tailed Tit. Then I wondered how many of mine I waste on petty judgements or perceived transgressions, how many I give over to reverence and gratitude, and how many I squander on anything besides. I spent the rest of the drive silently thanking each Bird I saw for improving the quality of my thinking.
That evening, the Owl returned to espouse his two-syllabled wisdom. I’m yet to speak his language, but I wondered if his sermon that night was simply, “For-give, for-give, for-give”. Perhaps the night is a place best entered free of resentment. Perhaps our indignations should be held like window-struck Birds—softly enough that they are able to leave us, when it’s time.
The Owl, this sentinel of the liminal, reminds me of my numbered days, and numbered thoughts. I can choose to rail against these limitations, or I can forgive my mortality because I have existed in a world also home to the winged, and to the light of the evening sun.
It seems to me that both reverence and forgiveness are matters of the spirit, and the practice of either requires an act of surrender, of handing something of ourselves over. Surrender requires humility, and humility asks that we reject the notion of our species sitting a top some hierarchical pyramid.
As the Owl beckons us back into darkness, I surrender to his rhythmic teaching, and I slowly begin to forgive the trespasses of the day.
Yours in aimless flight…