I’m for the birds!

Red-Tailed Hawk

“May I please have everyone’s attention?!” My respectful but loudly expressed request was made to a forest full of birds. It was morning. “Everyone, please! Quiet!”

And they were silent.

“Thank you. Sorry to mess up your morning. Now, here’s the thing. The person I’d hoped to be doing this with is not in my life anymore. Is that understood?”

A twitter of confirming yeses.

“So, I’m doing this with a hand tied behind my back. Now,  I love birds but don’t know a bunch of you, so I needed to get some help. Any of you heard of a bird I-D app?

Not even a peep.

“Didn’t think so. New to me too. Anyway, I turn it on, you sing, and it tells me what kind of bird you are.” I took out my not-so-smart phone and opened the app. “Okay, start singing!”

All of them, at one time.

“For the love of God! One at a time!”

Spring mornings the world is alive with birdsongs, audible jewels of sound. I have loved birds and the woods since boyhood, but making it a point to identify birds is a new endeavor.

Writing early mornings these days I can hear the birds before the sun fills the day. I am, by no stretch of the imagination, anything like the justly revered, John James Audubon (1785-1851), but, if it weren’t for him, I wouldn’t be wandering around in the woods, yelling out, “One at a time!” in order to get two types of birds to stop singing at the same time so I can figure out who they are.




Her name is Thi, pronounced tee. She is Vietnamese and Buddhist and her name means poem. It is a name that fits her well. Thi was the first person to teach me something about Buddhism, how Buddha believed that much of human suffering was and is rooted in our relationship with things. Things we have come to believe we should have, lamenting those things we don’t have, clinging to the things we do have, as if, and I imagine this was Buddha’s point, our very identities and worth were based on the presence or absence of these things in our lives. a

Thi was and is a truly beautiful and extraordinary person with remarkable depth of spirit and thought. Like anyone you genuinely like in life, when you are with them, talking with them, the joy of the moment is because of the person you are sharing time with, not because of what they are wearing or how much their watch or clothing cost. Right there is a reminder that real happiness in life doesn’t have a damned thing to do with things. For the life of me I can’t remember being in a conversation with someone and thinking, I’m having a wonderful time because, thank God, they’re wearing a Rolex and not a Timex!

Many who read this were, like me, raised in a culture that socializes (brainwashes) us into believing the acquisition of things is, whether we recognize this pattern or not, the driving force of our lives. And when I say things, I’m not just talking about material things like cars, fancy technology and such. I’m also talking about things like job titles, positions in society, of monetary wealth, of fame, of having the prettiest or handsomest mate and so forth. The word having being the dangerous word there, you don’t have anyone. No one is or ought to be a possession.

Life is a great teacher. I think the best teacher of all. There are times the lessons are not particularly pleasant, but they can become so if you have grown comfortable in your own skin and know that no challenge in life takes you away from you. If you stay in the warm light of that awareness, you are better able to digest the lesson, even if it doesn’t always taste good – at least not at first. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out happiness is not found in things, in our possession of things. Sometimes life offers us the chance to learn this, or, better put, discover this.

A case in point. I have recently gone back on disability and, save for a speaking engagement or two coming up, things are walnut tight on the economic front, and so I am streamlining things on the economic front. I was using a smart phone with all the bells and whistles. Realizing I could cut the cost of the phone in half by going back to a regular ol’ cell phone, I proceeded to do exactly that. And oh my, the upset I felt at having to put away the smart phone. You’d have thought I was having a limb removed, for Godsakes.

And then I thought of Thi, and Buddhism, and I realized I was in one of those moments that Buddha warned us about. Suddenly an experience that was giving me pain shifted and began giving me joy. The kind of exhilarating joy that one feels when they discover something wonderful in life.

Something for you to think about. I live in rural area. There are hills and streams and lakes and fields and farms all around me. There are birds and deer and rabbits and there is a big sky here. I don’t know where you live but the point I am about to make here still applies. How often have you been going to an appointment, the store, to see a friend, and on your way there you are so fixed on where you are going and what it is you want that you never notice the world you are traveling through?

It’s not all about things. Don’t miss your life. Stay open to it. Love it. Breathe it in. It is yours, and it’s wonder doesn’t have a damned thing to do with things.

When I am watching the beauty of a sunset, or watching birds on the feeder, a huge smile on my face at their antics, the last thing I am thinking about is what I am wearing or what I own or don’t own, I am too busy living. And isn’t that what it’s all about in the first place, living?