This piece was published in the Pasadena Star-News on April 16, 2000.
I wake up with my teeth clenched, my body tight, tired before my day begins. I know it will be a twelve-hour day: from 9:00 am to 9:00 pm. My eyes opened at 7:00 am. Two hours and counting. I have to shower, eat, feed the dogs, and feed the birds.
My car knows the way to work. Sometimes on Saturday morning, when I start to run my errands, I find I’m halfway to the office and not the hardware store. Day after day, week after week, year after year, I am programed to go to work.
Like most Americans, my work is stressful. Deadlines constantly loom ahead of me like fire-breathing dragons, office politics can be a distraction and, of course, I don’t make as much money as I’d like.
One day, quite by accident, I discovered a perfect antidote to stress. I was on my way to work and drove by a beautiful church with a towering steeple. Although I drive by it every day, I hadn’t noticed it before. The day was overcast, clouds laden with rain hung low over the grey stone church.
It was a red light that made me stop and look up. At that moment, a flock of birds flew by, perfectly silhouetted against the early morning sky. The colors were cool, the birds graceful, the sky a soft grey with tiny streaks of pink and blue. The thought of soaring above it all, like the birds, made me think I could fly over the petty, tiresome details of work and life.
After that day I looked for birds everywhere. I installed a bird feeder in my yard and attracted some wonderful birds that appreciated my fancy birdseed. Soon after, I bought a birdbath and watched with delight the curious and very humorous way birds groom themselves.
My wonderful feathered friends have helped me keep cool, calm and collected. I discovered that and entire family of birds live in a tree in my backyard. From my window I watch them dart about, in and out of the tree, landing on the feeder, pecking vigorously, with all their might. They have a life to live and they live it, without a moment’s pause to wonder why.
I’ve begun to notice birds on telephone lines, birds at the park, birds on city streets, birds perched and on dumpsters. They are everywhere and they are delightful. If I listen carefully, I can hear them chirping, calling to one another. Occasionally, I hear a grouchy old crow screeching his discontent. In the same yard, the silent hummingbird glides toward the bright red feeder, his tiny wings beating fast and furious, keeping him aloft.
One day at work, I was trying to decide which of several tasks I should tackle first. All demanded my attention and presented dire consequences if I didn’t attend to them immediately. I looked out the window and saw a beautiful bird sitting in a tree. It seemed as if she was looking at me.
The bird seemed not to have a care in the world. If danger or discomfort came her way she could simply fly away. I watched her for a moment and and then turned back to the work on my desk. Obviously I’ll never know the inner life of birds, but the notion of being able to fly away brings me comfort.
I do know that I will seek out the creatures who knew how to fly before humans did to give me inspiration. Though I climb aboard planes with faith in the pilot and crew, I reserve my admiration for the birds who fly through a winter sky with grace and beauty.
They teach their lessons everywhere: free of charge, free of worry, free of cares and woe; free for anyone who cares to see.
Kathleen Vallee Stein