and the colourful spectrum of experience
Hello. This post is about Death & Birds.
Last week, I accidentally spent half an hour watching a Sparrow bob in and out of a bush, fetching seeds which David had left out for him before hopping back into his vine-covered cocoon, only to hop out again moments later. It was a bitterly cold morning, but the sun was unwavering, finding its way through cloud to illuminate yellow and orange leaves, turning them into celebratory decoration.
I watched this little fellow go about his task, and my mind drifted to Norman—the Sparrow I fostered, and loved so dearly, who has now returned to whatever it might be that holds us on either side of life. That tiny bird had pulled me into such an intense, yet still all-too-brief, moment in time with him. Watching this Sparrow now, seemingly so well and intent, I was awash with gratitude for his coming into being, and for our shared beingness to have coincided on this golden morning.
About thirty minutes later, I was in the car with the window rolled down, enthusiastically suggesting to the driver of a van that he “Learn to fucking drive!”. Apparently not everyone in control of a vehicle understands the term ‘right of way’. As I continued along my journey, body vibrating with indignation, I found myself considering the colourful spectrum of experience and behaviour which my morning had contained; reverence, indignation, profound gratitude and yelling at a stranger—all before 10am.
A little while ago, that outburst of anger would have left me reeling. I would have felt that it somehow negated my earlier interaction with the Sparrow and the morning sun. As though that moment was not authentic or truly meaningful unless I was able to sustain the state of peaceful enrapture throughout the day. The outburst would have signalled a failure, a harsh reminder that I was unable to be who I hoped to be.
Now, thankfully, I’m better able to practice a kind of acceptance of the parts of me which I used to flatly reject. I love the part of me which seeks, and finds, the sacred in winged beings and the morning light. I also love the part of me which rails against injustice, and raises her voice in response to acts of inconsiderate fuckwittery. I, like you, am complex beyond my understanding. I have lived a life rich in both enchantment and torment and, as such, contain an intricate blend of elements.
I am a child turned inward, away from an uninviting world, refusing to draw breath for fear of choking on grief. I am a teenager, desperately seeking ways to separate from her body in effort to protect her spirit. I am a woman, blind with rage at the violence committed against the earth, and against her self (as if those two could ever be untangled). These amongst so many others.
When I was young, too young, I watched a documentary on animal testing. There’s no need to share details as we all know the horrors, but, perhaps needless to say, the scenes I saw landed in my nervous system as though I had witnessed my dearest friends being tortured. Haunted by the sociopathic indifference with which these beings were treated, I felt as though I were wearing a led coat, for months—during which time I witnessed a boy at my infant school use a pencil to pin a large spider inside his desk. As the spider squirmed, the boy began pulling off its legs.
Incandescent, I marched towards his desk and slammed the lid of it closed, as hard as I could, on his hands. He screamed and ran wailing, to the teacher. I opened the desk, and while the spider was still alive, it was totally broken. I whispered “I’m so sorry”, before crushing it beneath my palm. It had seemed like the kindest thing to do.
I don’t remember much of what followed outside of standing in the head masters office, with tears streaming down my face. I know I was told to apologise, and I know I shook my head—no. I could barely breathe. All I could do was cry big, heavy tears of sadness and confusion. The complexity of everything that was at play, then, was far too much for me to comprehend. Honestly, it’s almost too much, now.
Writing this, I am amazed at how alive the experience is—as though a part of me is, over thirty years later, still weeping in that office. Still totally overwhelmed by the contrast between what can be deemed acceptable, and what my body screams is not.
I have a persistent suspicion that, in the same way that each of these parts is with me now as I am writing, so too shall they be with me in the future, when I am dying. I have seen many a conflict played out on the battlefield of the mind and body as the truth of mortality is wrestled with in the final days—conflicts which might have instead been fought in the days when energy, and time, were significantly more available.
Forming something of a relationship with the unknowable, prior to becoming a part of it, seems a worthwhile endeavour. As does the, perhaps impossible, task of getting to know our whole selves.
It’s early here, and the Sparrow is back, bobbing in amongst frost bejewelled leaves. There is a part of me that wants this to last forever—and a part which is relieved that it cannot.
Yours in aimless flight,