They come out of nowhere, seemingly all at once. The tap, tap, tapping of a woodpecker in one of the dead sycamores in my yard. Then various chirps and twitters. Swirls of goldfinches; I hear the whisper of their wings. A chickadee. Bushtits and white crowned sparrows. An oak titmouse hidden in the foliage. A pine siskin splashing in the birdbath.
It takes time before my feathered companions become accustomed to my presence, but then they flock to the red berries on the pyracantha bushes and my bird feeders and they perch on the fence. They scratch at the seed that has dropped on the ground.
I am sitting as still as possible, looking skyward. Waiting. Because if I so much as lean over to pick up my binoculars or my camera, they scatter in a blur of unrequited promise. They are not like the coastal birds who pose in full sunlight or sandpipers who skitter in a coordinated swarm along the surf, like the murmuration of swallows at dusk.
It is not easy to resist the temptation to reach for my phone, check my email, refresh the NY Times webpage as I sit impatiently surveying the trees. But I am rewarded when there is rustling in the leaves. I search for subtle movement—enough to help me locate the sound. A bright orange breast and white circle around the eye. An American robin. It looks more spectacular than the robins I remember back east as a child. Later I look it up in my Sibley’s and it is indeed the same ubiquitous bird. How wonderful to see an old friend, seemingly unaware of his beauty.
Then just as suddenly, it is quiet again but for a steady breeze moving through the trees, my neighbor rolling his trash bins to the curb, a lawn mower off in the distance. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a flicker of yellow, like a warbler. Instead, it is a single dried leaf fluttering to the ground in a tumble of disappointment.
In the space of an hour, I have forgotten oh so briefly all about the election. And the pandemic. All the waiting we’ve been doing—for a new president and now waiting for inauguration day. Waiting for a vaccine. For the calendar page that will usher in the end to this crummy, heartsick year.
We are waiting to get back to our lives—our lives that have been on hold.
Except, this is our life. Masks and hand sanitizer. Zoom meetings and social distancing. Four years of a cruel, raging president. Fires and floods and hatred in the streets. A country that needs desperately to heal. And so much more.
If nothing else, 2020 will be remembered as a year of collective and personal grief. And waiting.
I look up again, searching for fluttering, a bobbing branch, a streak of color. I believe that gazing up at the sky is an act of faith, a respite. It is freedom. And courage. It is the possibility of something previously unimagined. It is hope. A prayer. The chance for redemption. It is the brief, nearly imperceptible, pause between the in-breath and the out-breath—conscious only when we make it so. It is a space between all the waiting.
And in the meaning we make of our lives, it is not the waiting that matters, but what we do with the space in between.
I invite you to read related blogs including Nesting in Place: How A Few Backyard Birds Are Teaching Me to Listen and Thin Places: The Possibility of Transformation. And my novel, Thin Places, that is available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.