Life

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By Cathy Hird

 

One of the hazards of spring is that birds looking for good nesting sites sometimes end up in the house. Old stove pipes and cracks in the stone seem attractive to the bird until they end up trapped in the wall and have to scramble until they find their way out or in. Inside the house they panic, flapping around the rooms, banging into windows, trying to land on lights that are unstable, knocking over candlesticks. At our place, they usually get into our summer kitchen. I just prop the back door open and let them find their own way out.

Last weekend though, a starling found its way into the living room. The cats tried to help, but they just managed to tip over the plants on the window sills. Perched on a lamp shade, it panted with its mouth open. Eventually, I got close enough when it landed in the window to get a cloth around it. Closing my hands around it as gently as I could manage, I felt its heart thumping. I managed to get the doors open without letting it escape, and then, standing on the back step, I opened my hands, and it flew straight to the lilac trees away from the house that had trapped it, free and back where it belonged.

This flight of a bird is a good image for me because the whole purpose of catching them is to let them go. Seeing the joy in their flight to freedom tells me the effort was worth it. And this act of working so hard to let something go is different from our norm. Usually when we have to work hard to get something, we expect to hold on to it.

When we start out in a career, as a teacher, a nurse, in a company, we take whatever position we can get. We may have a goal—we want a position as a special Ed teacher, in ICU, in the human resources department—but we start where we can and work toward the position we want. When we finally land the perfect job, we hold on to it.

When we think about buying a house, we have an ideal in mind. With our first house, we may have to settle for a "starter home" something small that needs work. But when we put together the equity, we trade up to get the yard, the number of bedrooms, and the style of architecture that we longed for. We make it ours as we shape it and decorate it our way. Eventually, life changes, children grow up and move away, the work gets harder to handle, but still it is hard to let go of the house we have made our own.Even with our children, though we know that the purpose of raising them is to prepare them for their own lives, still it is hard to let go. The first time we send them to school, we worry. The first time we hand over the car keys, our hand hesitates. The first time we pack up the car and take them to their own apartment for college, university, a job in a new city, it is hard to unload the stuff and see them on their way.

One thing that we do which is about letting go is shopping for a gift. We have an idea of what the person would want; we look long and hard for the perfect item; we get really excited when we find exactly what we want, the perfect gift for the person. We buy it, and then we give it away. In this case, the purpose of finding is to let it go, not to possess it.

There is something for us to learn from the bird set free and from the perfect gift given away: finding is not about having or possessing, but often is about letting go. Something shifts if we live our whole life the way we shop for the perfect gift, seeking good in order to give it to others. Life feels different when we work for what is good, not to possess it but to share it. This is the path to freedom and joy, not in holding on but in letting go.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.

 


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