Thursday, June 07, 2007

Red-winged blackbird: Part II DRAFT

The following is a draft. I've been working on it the past couple of days (when I haven't been slightly preoccupied, that is). I'm not at all satisfied. I'm trying to work out my understanding as I write and I'm not there yet. I thought it might be helpful to post a draft and get some feedback, and then write some more.

My dad was a red-winged blackbird, in a metaphorical sense that is, and my association of him with the bird has often helped me understand the many ways in which he is always with me, even when I lived far away and saw far too little of him, even after he died. The shift in perspective that’s happened for me since seeing the flock of them has been the growing awareness that I, too, am a red-winged blackbird, at least in the sense that the meaning I associate with the bird’s behavior and habits provides a deepening self-understanding. Just as I watched my dad withdraw to a solitary place, and like I’ve seen the solitary nature of the red-winged blackbird, I’ve understood myself to be one who prefers to be alone. I’ve attributed that to a long struggle with shyness, to a genuine comfort with silence and aloneness. Those things are true about me, but like any trait that becomes so fixed that one is limited in her ability to reach out for things that are longed for, hoped for, they are not inviolable assumptions. They can be brought into relationship with other aspects of my self that at times reject the more dominant self-understanding.

The sight of the flock of red-winged blackbirds rising out of the field like a dark storm cloud was jarring. It brought into question what I had assumed to be true, capital “T” true. Red-winged blackbirds don’t flock. They’re solitary. In reality, as I’ve read about them since, they do flock in the late winter, early spring, just prior to mating season. It is only when mating and brooding that the birds spread out, become territorial, and live alone.

The question, the sense of being jarred by the sight, I believe is more self-revealing than it is a genuine curiosity about the behavior of birds. As I’ve thought about it, I realize that in some way the sight of a lone red-winged blackbird was affirming to me. It gave me a way of making sense of my need or desire to stand on the outside of the communities or groups with which I’ve been associated. Some creatures are just meant to be alone; they don’t really need others, I would reason. It offered an explanation for why I felt alone and not entirely connected to the people or groups with which I was associated, but, though I’ve struggled to admit this, it’s never been satisfying. However clumsy I’ve been in seeking it, however awkward my pursuits of intimacy have been, I want the deep connectedness that comes with intimate, trusting, loving relationships. I want to fly with the flock now. Or, perhaps more realistically, I’m ready to move in and out of the flock, able to affirm my solitary nature and my longing for connection.

Lest you think I’m embracing the new self-understanding with great confidence, let me assure you that I’m the bird flying on the edge of the flock, my exit route in clear sight. It’s hard to write about the flock of red-winged blackbirds. I don’t have enough of that experience yet to know what it feels like, to have any sense of the meaning that ultimately I will draw from it. What I see are possibilities. My life is rich with people who are longing for the same thing, but I still find I’m surprised by that. Has that been absent in the past or is there a greater readiness for it on my part that enables me to see where it’s present? I know this feeling of seeing possibilities, though. I’ve been there before, but found that as I grew and changed, I started separating more and more from the flock, or maybe they separated from me. It’s happened with my family. It’s happened with the churches of which I’ve been a part. It seems there’s a cost to growth. The more I live out of my own integrity, the greater the likelihood that I will be alone.

But perhaps that’s the gift of the red-winged blackbird, the opportunity to see that the creature with which I so strongly identify moves in and out of the flock, able to see that there is a time to fly together, and a time to fly alone. That does not keep me from longing for something more permanent. My experience teaches me that permanence does not exist. And perhaps freedom, the kind that I long for, the kind without which I am no longer willing to live, means living with that both/and, trusting myself to know how to live into what the present moment offers, able to embrace the gift of a solitary life and a life lived with the deepest of connections, yet always aware that the next moment may lead to change.


J said...

The only part of what you've written that I'm not clear about is the last sentence of the first paragraph.

That said, I'm in awe of what you have allowed the bird to teach you. I, too, have experienced letting go of old flocks, expecting to be alone, only to find others flying right beside me all along. I'd say that is the most joyous surprise I've had in the last few years.

On being shy, one thing I have a lot of trouble with socially is joining a group that's already been formed. One time, I was waiting for class to start and a bunch of people were already gathered by the door, talking.

I stood alone in the back, waiting for the doors to open when a guy who knew me came up and said, "What are you doing standing here by yourself?"

I smiled and said, "Eagles don't flock."

He got mad. He said, "Did you read that on the back of a cereal box? What the hell kind of thing is that to say?"

I guess he thought I was being arrogant - and maybe I was. Or maybe I am. Sometimes I don't think about how I come across because it's like I don't think people can see me. I don't know. I'm in draft-mode, too.

Anyway, your red-winged blackbird posts have given me a lot to think about. Thank you for putting it out there.

Tamara said...

I appreciate your recognition of the both/and. I have yet to find one side of any duality that wasn't upon closer examination actually a paradox.

I found this to be an interesting explanation for your feathered friends nesting in groups. The protection I would have gathered...
but awareness?! Love it.

"Red-winged blackbirds have developed a number of anti-predator adaptations. Group nesting is one such trait which reduces the risk of individual predation by increasing the number of alert birds of the same species."

Linda said...

Thanks J and T!

J- The line you said isn't clear has been bugging me since I put the post up there. It doesn't really say what I meant and will be fixed.

It's funny. After being around some people who are going to big community event tonight which I decided I would not attend because it didn't make sense to me to pay to be as miserable as that event would make me, I'm now worried how that is making me appear to those people. It never occurred to me that anyone would notice or even care that I wasn't going, but someone actually said, "Hey, I noticed your name wasn't on the list of reservations!" Sheesh! I stand by my decision not to go, but it's making me think about what I can/need to do to show that I'm one of them in a way that fits who I am. I often think people don't see me, and am really surprised when they do.

T- That's interesting stuff! It gives me a new idea about this. Thanks.

Katherine said...

Your post made me look up what Parker Palmer said of the soul being like a wild animal, Linda.

For what it's worth, this is from his "A Hidden Wholeness":
“Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self-sufficient; it knows how to survive in hard places. I learned about these qualities during my bouts with depression....From time to time, deep in the thickets of my inner wilderness, I could sense the presence of something that knew how to stay alive even when the rest of me wanted to die. That something was my tough and tenacious soul. Yet despite its toughness, the soul is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around. If we want to see a wild animal, we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out. Unfortunately, community in our culture too often means a group of people who go crashing through the woods together, scaring the soul away. A circle of trust is a group of people who know how to wait quietly "in the woods" with each other and wait for the shy soul to show up. The relationships in such a group are ... patient and ... compassionate...and filled ...with abiding faith in the reality of the inner teacher."

Your "inner teacher" has certainly been in high gear for quite a while now!

Makes sense that you'd be cautious in all this...the soul as a wild animal is wise that way. Yet the soul's wild-animal-toughness keeps moving you forward and able to take appropriate risks and all that. And the soul's wild-animal-togetherness-with-those-you-can-trust [flocks] calls you.

Well, anyway, that's what came to mind for me. Thank you again for this post. It's just breathtaking.

Littlemankitty said...

ooh, nice catch with the Parker Palmer, katherine!

Linda, is this something you're trying to get "right" for a reason? It makes good sense to me ---but it seems like the process is probably more important than the product--unless you had some other goal for the product??

Littlemankitty said...

Oh, bother...that was me---PPB

Linda said...

Katherine- You hit something important. The Palmer quote next to the explanation T. shared helps bring the whole protection/safety aspect into clearer focus. That's great. And I love Palmer's distinction between community and circle of trust. That's very helpful. Thanks!

PPB- No, I don't think I'm trying to get it "right," but there is a sense of urgency (that may not be the right word, but it's what I'm sticking with) in gaining more understanding that hasn't really been explained here. I'll do that tomorrow when I'm not so tired.

jo(e) said...

One summer we had a red-wing blackbird at camp that sort of adopted us. He would sit on the mast of my father's sailboat and squawk at us. When we took the boat out, we'd come back to the dock and find him waiting for us.

I've never seen red-wings as birds that are loners, but rather birds who were independent enough to choose what they wanted instead of always going with a flock.

I really love these meditative posts about the red-wing. Just wonderful.

Marie said...

These are just beautiful posts. And there is more there, on your blog, but I want to comment on this one before I read the rest. Michel de Montaigne invented the essay genre. He said, when he was writing, that he was trying to work something out, that his "essais" were, indeed "tries", which is what the word means in French. Yours seems to be just that, a trying out, a trying on, of a new identity. I stand, as always, in awe of your growth and your ability to express it.

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