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On Old...er People and Birds


Late one afternoon, I was speaking with Pastor Stella. As we made way to our vehicles after a long day at the office, something strange happened.

She stopped mid-conversation and with the enthusiasm of a small child, pointed to the sky, and shrieked, “Cool! It’s a bird!”

To be fair, she did say the name of the actual bird that she was pointing to, but I was preoccupied with another thought: Pastor Stella has reached the age where bird watching is fun.

For a long time, I was convinced that it wasn’t until people reached a certain age that they begin to enjoy bird watching. The exception to this generalization are folks from England, they like watching birds at all ages.

Before I could filter my own thoughts, I replied, “Really? That’s the first thing you noticed… a bird?” Before she could respond, I added, “You’re getting old.”

You know that story in the bible? The one where the Sun stops so that God’s enemies wither in His wrath?

Well, the instant ‘you’re getting old’ left my mouth, I felt the burning rays of Stella’s wrath.

I cleared my throat and quickly muttered, “Older… I meant older than me...?”

Her eyes blazed in my direction. “I’m not old! AND I don’t like birds THAT much!”

I shrugged, we exchanged farewells, and I began my drive home. Austin traffic was particularly awful that day, and I spent a reasonable amount of time daydreaming. I thought of my grandfather and grandmother. I remember they spent countless hours on their front porch. They would stare at the street, the cars passing by, the trees, the roses, and yes, they would also stare at the birds.

I remember sitting next to my grandfather once, and asking him what he thought about during those long stretches.

His voice was calm with a hint of curiosity; pointing to the trees, he said, “Do you realize that when Fall comes, all those leaves up in those trees will be on the ground?”

His response was a little anticlimactic for me. I didn’t know how to respond, so, I shrugged in the affirmative. The conversation continued into the evening, and my grandfather proceeded to talk about other things, like ants, cows and loud people at the park across the street.

It’s funny how some thoughts stay with you. The profound lesson that came from them: life never stops. Life persists… Not only continues but is constant; even when it is hard to see. It’s in the birds in the air, the leaves falling from the trees, the ants that march one by one.

Do we stand still, just long enough, to look for it?

Does it not provide a sense of emancipation, when one realizes that they (as individuals) are not solely responsible for it?

As we age, do we begin to gravitate toward these realizations? Do mentors guide us toward them?

Pastor Stella is remembering to take the time to look around…

Later that night, my phone went off like a fire alarm. Pastor Stella was bombarding my phone with text messages. I opened my phone to a photo of a peacock (hanging in Pastor Stella’s living room, naturally), a stuffed duck, a ceramic rooster, a feather in a shadow box, a painting of two birds in a cage, a backyard bird ornament and last but not least, a shirt that had birds on it! AND finally a message:

“I DO HAVE AN OBSESSION!”

Thumbing through the photos, I imagined the tense and dissonant cadence of chords on a piano, rising in intensity with each passing picture. I smiled and thought to myself, “Maybe she just likes birds…”

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