That Baby Bird Place
Yesterday I emailed a friend I haven’t seen in a while, to see if she could have dinner with me on short notice. “That sounds like it would be wonderful, but it couldn’t come at a worse time.” She went on to tell me that a good friend of hers died suddenly this weekend, doing something that I love to do, that I want my kids to love to do, that I imagine many of you love to do too--he died while swimming in the ocean.
Her news struck me in the chest where something crumbled. Words fell away, and even after trying to think of how to reply, all I could come up with was “oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.”
What I found in that wide open place of “oh dear” is something that felt tiny and pink, maybe like a baby bird, that is always there, but mostly shielded by ten thousand layers of thoughts and plans. It is the emblem of tenderness, it is the reminder of how small we are in the face of things, it is the soft spot that when we touch it we feel humble and full of awe.
I could write a gratitude list everyday a never be transported to this place. The thinking involved, the question itself, “what are you grateful for?” the finitude of a list, circumvents raw feeling, and without connection to that feeling, writing a gratitude list can feel like small practice given the vast unknowableness we encounter in this lifetime. I’m not saying I’m against gratitude lists, I think what I’m saying is that writing one doesn’t always get at the whole of things. For me, it can skim the surface, barely touching “the size of the cloth.”
And so last night, instead of asking the kids what they were grateful for that day, I told them this story, of a dad who went out for a swim and didn’t come back. It was a heavy load, and I’m not sure I did the right thing. But I needed them to know, to start to understand, that no one knows what happens tomorrow. We have today to love each other, to take care of each other, and to create from that raw open feeling. When we are connected to that baby bird place no thought is necessary, no list is required. I know my smallness, and that makes a lot of room for everything else.