Hummingbird: A True Story in Two Parts (I)

Part I: Wide Open

Before the Animal Blessing worship began, before we brought the chairs, chalice and chancel outside to steps of the old New England town church and the edge of the old New England town green, there was a mystical moment with a trapped bird and our common surrender, our collective liberation.

Having arrived early, I entered the empty Parish House, where once ministers of olden days lived. In these modern times, its use and relevance has been transformed: offices, a kitchen, classrooms, meeting space. I discovered it was not entirely empty: there was a bird inside.

Of course, birds are supposed to be outside. I knew this. And so did the bird, which was frantically trying to get out the quickest way it knew how: follow the light, head for the sky. But these human-built edifices are tricky, for they contain invisible barriers that promise the sky but deliver obstruction.

They are no place for a bird. I knew this. And so did the bird.

This was no coSword-billed_Hummingbirdmmon bird. It was not a song bird. It was, much to my surprise and delight, a hummingbird.

Afterwards, as I told this story to my partner, upon hearing the kind of bird, he said, rather matter-of-factly, “Auspicious,” which is what I had felt upon seeing the bird. There is something magical about all birds, it is true. But something even more magical about hummingbirds. And a hummingbird on the day of my very first Animal Blessing?

Yes: auspicious.

I was raised to understand that hummingbirds are special, metaphorically magical. If my family of origin had not been avowed atheists, I think we would have likely called them holy.

Birds are supposed to be outside. I knew this. And so did the bird.

The front door already open, I opened another door wide, hoping to increase the chances that this bird would be drawn to the sky and light without a pane of glass to bar the way. The bird, beating its wings swift-beyond-swiftly, blur that thrums, moved away from the window. For the briefest moment, I thought it just might find its escape.

It did not.

Instead, it flew erratically, further into the house, finding a different window that falsely promised freedom. I went to that window, climbing awkwardly on the arm of a couch, then on the back of the couch. When I reached the high window sash, I beheld a still hummingbird, no wing flutter, just a worrisome lack of motion – it was alive, but exhausted.

Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri), juvenile female drinking nectar from Scarlet Bugler (Penstemon centranthifolius) Southern California.   Photo by Steve Berardi

Black-chinned Hummingbird (Archilochus alexandri), juvenile female drinking nectar from Scarlet Bugler (Penstemon centranthifolius) Southern California. Photo by Steve Berardi

(I have since been told by a serious six year old that hummingbirds must have nectar every ten minutes, so the situation was, indeed, urgent.)

A cardboard box tried and discarded, I took the bird in the nest of my two human hands. I had feathered my “nest” with nearby tissue, not wanting to get my human germs or oils or scruff on the bird (and not really wanting its bird germs or oils on scruff on me).

As I cupped my hands around this tiny, sentient being, it yielded. There was not much else it could do. Such is the case with surrender: it is the last thing, often the only thing available, and so we give ourselves to it. We fear it is our end. Sometimes, we find it is our liberation.

image by Johnhain

image by Johnhain

Terry Tempest Williams writes:

I pray to the birds.

I pray to the birds because I believe they will carry the messages of my heart upward.

I pray to them because I believe in their existence, the way their songs begin and end each day. (These are the invocations and benedictions of Earth.)

I pray to the birds because they remind me of what I love, rather than what I fear.

And at the end of my prayers, they teach me how to listen.

Birds are supposed to be outside. I knew this. And so did the bird.

I walked that bird, nested in my hands, outside. I stopped at a tall, branch-laden bush, stuck my hands into its depths, and opened them to the Wide Open.

Part II can be found here.

This entry was posted in Earth, Hope, Prayers, Unitarian Universalism and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Hummingbird: A True Story in Two Parts (I)

  1. Andrew Hidas says:

    Mmmhhh…Also want to say this stands quite nicely on its own, whether there were a Part II or not. And I like the metaphor of the Wide Open, and just may start capping those babies with all due reverence as you have done here.

  2. Pingback: Hummingbird: A True Story in Two Parts (II) | irrevspeckay

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