Fly, Birdie


"Let the bird fly free," the old Mohawk proverb says. "If it returns, it is yours. If not, it never was." Wise words, repeated in ballads and poems and somewhere amid every junior high breakup that has ever existed. We tend to cling to this axiom when we're absolutely desparate, when we've tried every other trick in the bag and we hope that this pinnacle act of tough love will finally bring our child or career or lover or friend or blasted book we've been mud-wrestling with home.

Yesterday, as we drove through the rain, Seth pressed his nose to his window and watched. After a few minutes, he said, "Dad, you know what would be sad? If a bird flew into the storm and got pounded to the ground by the rain. Or fried by lightning."

"Yes, Seth. That would be sad."

That's the thing about those birds. Sometimes the birds we set free get chopped up in a squall or run into a line of buckshot or hook up with a revved, wide-eyed flock of party birds flying south to Cancun. And those birds aren't looking back.

If we release something, while clutching a demand for it to return, we haven't released it at all. If releasing a thing really only marks our attempt to trick someone back or to game the system, then we're merely continuing our role as the universe's control freak. To let the bird fly free means we truly let it loose. We send it with a prayer or a blessing. Our heart may stay with it. We may hope against hope that it returns. But we have said farewell. If anything changes, then that will be the first page of a new story.

For the past month, I've had bristling energy for a new book. After four years of book wasteland, I thought I was on to something. I sat back this weekend for the cold hard look. I see flashes here and there, but it's groping too much. It's flat. The words aren't true enough yet. I have to take my hands off the keyboard and let the pages fly into the waste basket and the filing cabinet. And the releasing can not be a mental maneuver to trick the creative gods into getting the juices flowing. I have to say a blessing and bit it adieux.

My fear is that the pages or ideas will never come back. I fear because I carry the misguided belief that there are a limited number of words, only a finite portion of opportunities. I'm greedy with my words, clasping them like a toddler grips his one tootsie roll. This greediness gives the surest sign that I must let it go.

* * * * 

Last month (interestingly, just about the time I hit high gear on my book), a couple birds and I were pitched in a skirmish for control of our balcony. After several vigilant days, I was the victor. However, last week I traveled out of town, and when I returned, Miska pointed out the nest as well as the bird atop looking rather coy.

The bottom line is that whether the birds are coming or going, we have precious little to say about it. We might as well stop fighting against our life. We'd do better to make peace with the birds and the people and the loss and the joy. And get on with the living. There's lots of that to do.


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