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.