The Birds of Fear

blue

~ the sky today ~

Sitting across the room from my love, both of us working. Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” comes on, and we keep catching each other’s eye. Then “Time After Time” — and the lyrics melt on my tongue like salted caramel, impossible to keep and best to consume.

I’m eating quiche hot of out the oven with my hands, a load of laundry spinning behind me in the pantry. The green kitchen chair where I’m sitting faces a wall, but beyond the wall is the west. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between having dreams that reflect reality and dreams that are not so vaguely prophetic. The sink’s full of dishes. In a while, I will wash them. Then I’ll peel and fry potatoes for Mani.

My days are all pretty similar in most ways. I wonder whose days aren’t. (ER docs? Midwives?) Then I worry for a second — is this a failure of the imagination on my part? Shouldn’t every day be new and contain wonder and discovery? That’s a lot of pressure. Sheesh. I tell myself not to overthink it. “Self, don’t overthink it.”

Yesterday, I got a massage. It was like a revelation (I have a body!). Annie and I talked for some parts of it and she worked on me in silence during other stretches. At one point, she offered this beautiful visual:

The birds of fear may fly overhead, but you don’t have to let them build a nest in your hair.

If you’d seen my hair at the end of those 90 minutes, you might have laughed, as my hair was legitimately nest-worthy! But also, I love the image of those birds. Given how often birds get my attention, usually with curiosity and fondness and even great affection and (to my kids’ dismay) giddiness on my part, to imagine my fears as birds changes something fundamental about how I relate to fear.

Stopped at a red light, I look out the window. The rain has stopped, and I estimate at least two dozen sparrows hopping and pecking around an October-colored bush. Little birds. Little fears. Busy, industrious, filling themselves up in preparation for the cold months coming.

The cold months are coming. I know this because of empirical evidence. Because of 43 winters. Because of the way red, orange, and yellow overtake green in a final gasp before falling, returning to earth.

Rabbi Lawrence Kushner writes:

“A mystic is anyone who has the gnawing suspicion that the apparent discord, brokenness, contradictions and discontinuities that assault us every day might conceal a hidden unity.”

Why does God hide the unity? Aren’t we all mystics? Can you read those words and pause and really take them all the way in? Consume and digest them, like lyrics, like caramel? They defy the intellect and, some would say, require tremendous faith.

I don’t know if I have tremendous faith; what comes to me is more of a sensation that I am faith. It’s not something I really know how to do, but when I don’t try, there’s a permeability, something like a still point that lies inside of this very moment and outside the rings of rational thought.

Now that I write that, I realize how much it resembles breath. I recall a commentary I read in the machzor, or prayer book, on Rosh Hashanah, and find myself wishing I had a copy here in front of me. It had to do with breath.

Ever-enthralled by Hebrew etymology, I turn to Wikipedia:

“…the word Nishmat (the combining form of Nishmah נִשְׁמָה breath) … is related to the word neshama (נְשָׁמָה soul), suggesting that the soul is part of the breath of all life.”

The breath, the soul. This is the place — if it’s a place at all — that sustains me when all I see is brokenness and discord. If there is no hidden unity, no inherent wholeness, then what is our purpose here? Would we just throw up our hands or throw in the towel, walk away from suffering, and say it’s someone else’s to deal with?

Because we are all suffering, every single one of us. Of course there are degrees; I cannot compare a melancholy mood or what’s weighing on my heart to a baby buried in the rubble from another bombing. On the other hand, touching my own suffering gently and attentively opens to compassion.

Suffering, then, must go hand in hand with compassion, and compassion must be the source of action — action that affects change and hopefully healing. I’ll quote Rabbi Kushner again: “Hold up your hands before your eyes. You are looking at the hands of God.” Hand in hand. Mine in yours. God’s in mine.

On the kitchen table, a yellow bowl with two mangoes. A card for an acquaintance whose son died last week. Two submissions to The Roar Sessions, printed out and waiting for my eyes. I realize the washer cycle has ended and hear the s’s of Mani’s British crime show coming in from the bedroom. Quiche crumbs.

One window is open; the cold days are not all the way here yet. It’s dark. The fridge hums. The world pulses with irreconcilable beauty alongside more devastation that my heart can take.

And so I watch the birds of fear flutter up against the backdrop of a sky as pure and blue as today’s. I listen for the breath and hold my own hand up in front of my face, remembering: No two days are the same. No two moments are the same. No two lives are the same.

And I come home, just as the train whistles a mile or so away, to knowing that we’re here to love each other and do our part to heal what’s broken.

2 thoughts on “The Birds of Fear

  1. Melinda says:

    Yes! This feels like truth on every level, and the majority of me is flying high with this soulful breakfast. My nasty little bitch inner critic is pissed, but it’s just because she lives in the shadows of untruths and subversions, and the undeniable glittering beauty of this piece is too bright for her eyes. Thank you, Jena!

    Liked by 1 person

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