What the Catbird Heard – Part I


Photo courtesy Audubon.org

“Mackenzie, why are you lying on your back with your head up against that tree?” her grandfather wondered, surprised to find his little girl alone just off the trail in the back of the Nature Center.

“I don’t know, Grampy. I sat down, then fell back, and when I opened my eyes and looked up, I couldn’t stop. It’s too beautiful. I feel dizzy, as if I am spinning upward and out of control.”

“Let me see. I’ll lie down beside you and we can both look up!”

“Do you feel the sky pulling you, Grampy? Do you wish you were that tree?”

Her grandfather smiled, warmed by her active imagination and capacity for love. “I think I know what you mean, Kenzie. Down here I can feel the tree soaring, defying gravity. If I were younger, I’d want to climb up its branches and see how high I could go, how long they’d support me.”

“Don’t talk, Grampy. Just listen. We can climb later.”

“Do you love me, Grampy?” his granddaughter suddenly asked, the morning’s stillness broken only by the steady hum of the insects coming to life in the spring.

“Oh, Kenzie, of course I do! Why would you ask?”

“Well, Mommy and Daddy say they love me. And Grammy of course. And I always say I love them back, but it’s hard to know what we mean when we say we love someone.”

The berries along the garden fence suddenly looked a deeper red. “I think we mean that we care deeply about that person,” her grandfather answered. “It’s a way of saying that we want to be with that person, that he or she makes us feel happy or more alive.”

“But, Grampy, how can we be more alive than we are?” Mackenzie wondered. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Her grandfather laughed, realizing how inadequate words can be to explain what really matters. “Well, there’s a difference between being able to walk and talk and eat, and being able to transform someone or something.”

“Transform”? Mackenzie asked, puzzled by a word so unfamiliar to her.

“Change them. Make them better. Help them to feel inspired, able to do anything. It’s how you feel when you look up from the bottom of that tree,” her grandfather replied.

“I like that feeling, Grampy, but I’m not sure I love the tree.”

“In a way, I think you do, Kenzie. I think you are a loving person, which means you give something of yourself to the people, and even things, around you. You give some of your light or energy or trust.” Her grandfather stepped away from the tree, as if to give himself more space.

“I don’t feel as though I’m giving anything, Grampy. I feel people are always giving me something instead.”

“That’s a big part of love, Kenzie. You give, but feel as though you get more in return.”

“What about when you’re bad, Grampy? Sometimes I get really mad at Mommy. Once I even bit her I was so angry. And Mommy sent me to my room when I spit at her one time. Did she stop loving me then?”

“No, Kenzie, believe it or not she didn’t. She may have been hurt or disappointed or angry, but in some ways her love actually grew stronger.”

“Stronger? How can that be?”

“Because the anger isn’t important. It fades away. What stays is the exchange of feeling, the communication, the realization that nothing can break the connection that exists between you.”

“Is it always that way, Grampy? My friend Abby said that her daddy was leaving her mommy and wouldn’t be living with them. Abby didn’t know whether she had been bad and her daddy didn’t love her anymore.”

“Oh, that’s so sad, Mackenzie. I’m sure Abby’s dad still loves her, but sometimes love becomes complicated between adults. Sometimes people change, and the trust is broken. Love can be very painful.”

“Will that ever happen to Daddy and Mommy, Grampy? I don’t ever want to lose them.”

“No, Kenzie, I think they are like me and Grammy. We disagree, and sometimes fight to the point where we won’t talk, but you know the feeling of being pulled up that tree and into the sky? You know the excitement you feel when you look up? That’s what we always come back to. That love doesn’t end.”

“But, Grampy, is all love the same? You’re married and love Grammy. Do you feel the same about her as you do about me? I’m just a little girl. Who will ever want to marry me?”

“It’s different, Kenzie, but equally wonderful. As for who will want to marry you, I think they’ll be lined up for miles!”

“I don’t even like boys, Grampy. They’re dirty and they fight all the time and throw acorns at me.”

“More proof that they like you already! Boys have a funny way of expressing themselves.”

“Grampy, boys are gross! I don’t care how they express themselves; there’s no way I will ever love any of them. I think you should marry me, and we can have our own family. And Grammy can live with us, too!”

“I’m flattered that you would ask me, Kenzie, but wait until you’re a little older and see if you change your mind. I think you may see those boys differently. Love sometimes grows in mysterious places.”

“Grampy, I like mysterious places, but for now I think I want to climb this tree. Will you lift me up?”

“I’ve got ten fingers waiting for you, little girl. Hold on!”






Looking for signs of spring

P1050275copyA young woman stopped by Stony Brook two weeks ago with all the promise of spring. She was ebullient, wide-eyed, full of optimism and enthusiasm, her energy contagious, seemingly filling the office space with light. She chatted with me for a half hour, effortlessly, with a maturity and confidence that belied her age (approximately 24-25). Like so many others who walk through our doors, she proved to be a free spirit, independent-minded and willing to take risks, looking for challenges and adventures, open to change.

I envied her youthfulness and freedom of thought, her unrestrained exuberance. The world was wide open for her, as it should be. She told me that she had been working for a commercial company that installs solar panels for home owners and industry when it occurred to her that she “could be doing more for the world” by serving as a consultant for non-profits who want to go solar. She wanted to know who put in our solar system, whether we were happy with them, and what were their efficiencies. Currently she is working with the Ashram in Millis to do a solar install there. Soon she would be leaving for Nicaragua where she had agreed to volunteer her services for a solar installation at a school.

P1050282copyI wondered how she could afford this life-style, how she could be so willing to uproot herself and travel to places most would consider dangerous. What gave her the confidence? The inspiration? Her answers surprised and captivated me. She said, “I have amazing Karma,” that she “believes in being open to what’s in front of her,” that there are “opportunities and adventures everywhere, but most don’t see them,” or allow them into their lives.

P1050285copyShe told me about a vision she had when she was meditating outside. She saw a rainbow around the sun that led her to believe “she should be doing something with solar,” that she “could save the world” in this way. She wanted to inspire others to dream, to do, to be, and possibly write a book about her journey, though she wasn’t confident in her writing skills. I encouraged her to start with a journal and/or a blog, suggestions which she met with great excitement, saying, “I can’t believe this. I’ve been thinking about doing a blog! This is perfect, just the incentive I need.”

P1050281copyI gave her Doug’s information (Stony Brook’s Director) and told her that he could answer any questions she had about the companies we worked with for the solar panels on our roof. I gave her the URL for my blog so that she could get a sense of what she might do, and then I offered to give her a blank journal she could use to record her thoughts while on these adventures. If and when she came back to Stony Brook, I told her, I wanted to interview her, to get more of her story. She promised to stop by within the week.

P1050286seedlingscopyI smiled when she left, knowing perhaps that she wouldn’t come back, enjoying the fact that there are still people like her who have big dreams and are willing to take risks, who eschew the well-traveled path and are not willing to settle for a life that is not lived fully. And then it occurred to me that she was a perfect trope for spring which comes suddenly and unexpectedly, reminding us of past glories and expectations, filling us with hope, and then quickly leaving as it yields to summer sun and the reality of the fall. Spring is tempestuous and unpredictable, exciting and full of possibility, pulling us out of the dead of winter and fulfilling the promise of rebirth.

Though sunny and warm one day, and followed by a hard rain the next, spring will always thrill and delight and then disappoint us. April is, indeed, the cruelest month, but given a choice I would not have it any other way.