I’m sitting outside this morning, writing in the quiet of the day, before the lawnmowers start and the leaf blowers and the construction projects my neighbors are doing over the long weekend.The sun is hot, where there is no shade, but the air is cool where there is no sun, and I have been moving my chair around to find the best place to sit where I am not too hot, but not too cool, and I can enjoy the morning.
Some robin has found some good bugs/worms in my back yard, and it’s making repeated caterpillar-fetching trips to the high grass (I’m letting it grow, so the roots get well established before I start mowing for the summer (and yes, I am aware that summer is practically here). Other robins have also discovered this, and they have been fighting over that little space in the back yard for a little while, now. They are very aggressive with each other, and they have been flying and fighting over this territory with loud, angry cries and swooping attacks. The other birds that happen to be nearby — the blue jay, the downy woodpecker — have been also getting the brunt of their aggressive anger.
But something very educational just happened, while they were fighting with each other. They were all embroiled in a flying group brawl, when I saw a big crow fly into a nearby tree. He sat there a few minutes, seeming to hide behind the trunk of the tree, seeming to look over at the robins. Then, when all the robins were flying around attacking each other, the crow flew over to where they were… and a minute later, it flew away — with a baby robin in its beak. I could see its legs hanging down, and the crow’s flight was a little more lumbering than it had been, coming in.
All the robins flipped out and realized what was happening, and they turned from their attacks to chase the crow, which was already on the wing, headed off to some place where it could eat its little victim.
Over at the nest, a lone robin calls plaintively, chirping with distress over and over again.
Nature can be cruel. And it can be beautiful. Just now, a yellow swallowtail butterfly flew over to me and fluttered around my head for a while. A study in contrasts — in the space of a few moments, terrible “cruelty” and wonderful beauty. Coarse necessity and fragile bliss.
That crow has to eat. The butterfly has to fly. Sooner or later, each of them will in turn become food for something else. That’s just nature’s way — as surely as it’s also nature’s way for yellowjackets and mosquitoes to be visiting me, as well.
This was a good lesson this morning — watching the robins fight, and seeing how their distraction cost them one of their little ones. I doubt that if they had all been minding their nest, the crow would have come in and picked off one of their babies. It is a natural thing, but it could have turned out different, if those birds hadn’t been so fixated on fighting amongst each other.
The other thing I noticed was how quickly these aggressive enemies became allies, when they had a common foe. When they had the same threat to combat, they quickly left their differences behind and joined forces. That is also nature’s way.
Seeing this happen, I can’t help but think about all the ways that we people also fight amongst ourselves, and in the process lose things that are very important to us. We can be so intent on proving we are right, or filling some need that we are convinced we need to fill, that we trash our relationships and alienate/punish those closest to us. We can get so caught up in “taking care of ourselves” — or just looking out for NUMBER ONE — that we lose the connections that bring us life and happiness and fulfillment. We can get so caught up in chasing after the things we think will bring us happiness, that we never get there. And the more we chase, the harder we try, the farther we are from our goal of ultimate happiness.
But it seems to me that that’s how we are built. All the chasing, all the fight-flight we are caught up in… that’s the very thing that keeps us from being truly happy. When that is all we do, day after day, week after week, year after year, our ability to just let in the happiness and joy tends to shrivel and shrink. It’s like a muscle, this ability to enjoy ourselves — if we don’t use it, it atrophies, shrivels, shrinks, and becomes so weak that it actually hurts to try to use it.
But like our muscles, our ability to enjoy life can be restored. It doesn’t have to go away for good, and although at times it may feel like we will never ever get back to a place of peace (like I felt this morning at 1 a.m.), the fact of the matter is that with practice and time and patience, we can get back that sense of pleasure, that sense of enjoyment, that resting, digesting part of our lives that is as real and as vital to our survival and ability to thrive, as our beloved fight-flight reflex.
We can get back to that good place again. Because it’s always there. We just need to find it again.
We can, you know. We all come into this world with an autonomic nervous system that gives us as much access to enjoyment and relaxation, as it does to drama and stress. Over time, we may get trained to focus more on the fight-flight, and we may actually feel more alive when we are in fight-flight. But the fact that we digest our food and breathe and even have a regular heartbeat is testament to the fact that we always have a side of us that can — and does — love to just chill. Getting back to that place takes practice. God knows, I can testify to that. For some of us, it comes easy. For others (like me) it takes A LOT of practice. But it gives you something to work towards — and the rewards are pretty awesome.
So, on this beautiful day, I wish you rest and relaxation — remember those who have given their all so that we can enjoy our freedom and our opportunities. Remember those who have also returned, still bearing the burdens of their missions and their service. I like to also remember all those who have served in another capacity, tho’ they weren’t in the military — all the individuals who have given their all to make this country, and this world, a better place for those to come in the future.
May you find peace, may you find rest, and may you find your own good place.