I haven’t given much thought to birds in the past. Once, when visiting India, I remember noticing that when a flock of pigeons would fly all around you it was like breath, like molecule, their noisy wings thrumming to the beat of your own heart. You were altogether surrounded. As if you were the same. As if they were part of each other, and also you.
But mostly, otherwise, not much thought.
And then, a series of events: My days began to feel overwhelming, bloated and stretched, as everyone’s days are prone to do. I began to search for a healthy distraction to calm my soul – something for when the whispered prayers and deep breaths and memorized Psalms felt empty, for when the glass of merlot and Instagram scroll felt unhealthy, for when I found myself being pulled out of myself and swallowed by habit, by vice.
And I thought of joy, and how I hadn’t seen it in a while, hadn’t been looking for it around here. And I thought of the small happiness of a hummingbird, a sparrow, a finch.
I thought it might be nice to pay attention, is all.
I read somewhere that happiness is directly linked to vision, not in a metaphorical sense, but in a very real, scientific sense. The further your eyes focus on something beyond your horizon, the smaller/lighter/happier you feel. The study argued that, in particular, the people of Tokyo experience high levels of depression on the regular, simply because there aren’t a lot of places to look beyond the crowd or the buildings or the dense, pulsing population. There aren’t enough wide open spaces to observe, not enough areas to stretch out beyond yourself. To be free, or some small definition of the word.
It works for chickens, I remember thinking.
The long of it is that we’d had a bird feeder in the garage, a gift still boxed, meant to be installed a few years prior but forgotten. Ken set about securing it in the garden, but we installed it too low and the dogs kept batting at the seeds, knocking it over, having third and fourth lunches. The birds (wisely) never came.
But then Bee had recalled a few gathered pinecones from our last nature walk, had asked for some peanut butter, had seen a particular project where seeds could be rolled onto the peanut butter, the pinecone, hung with twine in a tree.
Children hold many of the answers.
And this morning, the first bird arrived. I don’t know the particular species of bird, we’re still learning. But I know I brought my tea into the sunroom as the kids shrieked and fought over a ruined pillow fort, and I looked out the window beyond my own horizon, beyond my own tiny, imagined world full of seen and unseen worries. And as I watched, a small and momentary joy returned.
Sometimes, a small and momentary joy is all we can fight for. Sometimes paying attention is hard, not because we’re fidgety or bored, and not because we can’t, but because we don’t have to. We can avert our eyes to the hard, if we’d like to (and why wouldn’t we like to?). There are hundreds of distractions ready to pull us in another direction. We can look anywhere but here. We can look everywhere but here.
But I’m finding that the true joys are often in plain sight, just beyond the pillow fort fights. Sometimes we run smack dab into them, full force, and other times it takes a bit of setting up, a bit of luring, a bit of peanut butter smeared on a pinecone.
But it always arrives, quietly lingering. Begging us to look outside, just beyond our smudged windows, just long enough to wait, to watch, to witness before it flits away and visits another.