Choosing the Birdsong

Maybe because in the wake of Orlando, I needed inspiration and so listened to David Foster Wallace’s address to Kenyon College, captured in the small book, This is Water,  but I’ve been thinking a lot about choice.

All of life is a choice. I know this is not revelatory information I am dropping here; if you’re a fellow blogger, or a reader of blogs, I imagine you discovered this long ago. We writers write to put our thoughts (because we think a lot) into some solid form, where we can look at and ponder them lest a squirrel cross our path and we lose the thought for all time. And contemplative types (in my experience) know about choice. That we have the power to choose what we take from a situation, how we react to it, what we do with the bits and pieces of our lives, good and bad.

Which isn’t to say we always choose well, or at all. Our strength and vigilance waxes and wanes. There is a lot of noise and tragedy surrounding us. There are a lot of folks invested in keeping the volume of rhetoric turned way, way up and thus, keeping all our lesser emotions ginned up, too.

For me, the noise sometimes becomes so overwhelming I simply shut down and isolate myself from any input at all, which can be healthy as long as I don’t stay there too long. If we shut down completely and choose not to choose, we make the choice of allowing Life to happen to us, with no exercise of our own freewill. For some, this feeds an unhealthy need for abdicating responsibility, or martyrdom, rather than gaining the strength of taking responsibility and with it the power to change that which is not pleasing, or is harmful to ourselves and others.

Behind my backyard are several large pines and a couple of cypresses, home to a variety of birds and some squirrels. In the early morning hours I take my camera with my zoom lens, and a cup of coffee and sit out there, hoping to take pictures of the birds. I’ve done this often enough that I find I listen for their calls, so I know where in the trees they are and can concentrate my attention on that area, my goal to get a nice, clear, sharp picture of any and all of them in flight, wings spread. It eludes me. I have ever so many nice pictures of them sitting on the power lines, or some of the lower branches, the bird feeders or fences, but none of them in full flight, wings spread and markings clear. But I keep going out there anyway, confident that God’s Guardian Angel of Photographers will help me get shutter speed, aperture, and ISO settings in whatever cosmic agreement needed to render a sharp, clear, noiseless photo of a bird in flight.

On the other side of the pines and cypresses is a well-trafficked city street. It’s pretty quiet at 6:00 a.m. but the noise from commuter cars soon increases, not overwhelmingly, but enough you know a road is out there. This morning as I sat with my coffee and camera, Ivan the (recently) Terrible in the chair next to me and Blanca snuffling along in the grass, looking for rocks, it occurred to me that I had been so intent on listening for the birds, identifying Cardinals here, Mockingbirds there, a tiny Warbler, too, that I hadn’t noticed any road noise at all. Which of course brought it smack-dab to the forefront of my attention, but in the preceding hour I had heard nothing but birdsong.

With so much hate and vitriol sounding off in the continual feed of a 24/7 news cycle, it is important to make healthy choices, both for ourselves and the world around us. Informed we must be but while always exercising care in choosing our sources, eschewing the shrill and seeking the calm, ever questioning those invested in kindling our anger, and paying heed to the softer spoken, gentler words appealing to our love, patience, and kindness.

We can choose the birdsong.


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