mary’zine random redux: #12 March 2001

You wouldn’t believe what I go through when I’m writing this ‘zine. On the one hand, I respond to whatever has been brewing in me that insists on coming to the surface, whether I want it to or not—like the seXXX issue. In that way, writing is like painting—whatever is pushing comes out, I can’t stop it. Hm—guess it’s like birth, too. On the other hand, I’m increasingly aware of having an audience, and the part of me that wants to please my readers tends to flutter around the delivery room, agonizing over what the baby’s going to look like instead of just getting the thing born. Will it be funny enough? interesting enough? deep and light in the right proportions? Will anyone else care about my precious philosophical spelunking, or will the triumphant consummation of pages of meticulously reasoned insights go unread on the back of a toilet or under a stack of magazines?

A friend of mine told me early on that she thought I was “generous” for writing the ‘zine. I was surprised by that word and told her honestly that it felt more like being selfish—like, look at me, read me, see me. She said “Oh,” and I wished I had kept my mouth shut. The problem with “telling the truth” is that there’s no guarantee that anyone else will (a) like it, (b) relate to it, or (c) care. And so, in writing the ‘zine, I’ve had to talk myself into the necessary writer’s delusion that there’s nothing I can do about that and therefore it’s out of my hands. I’ll just concentrate on breathing and pushing and let you decide how you feel about the funny-looking creature that emerges.

pookie’s higher self

I learned recently that Pookie is afraid of the rain. I don’t mean being out in it, I mean hearing it on the roof. I don’t know why I never noticed this before—maybe it’s a new development. To me, the sound of rain is restful, so when I see him slinking past me, moving slow, looking fearfully right and left, I can hardly believe it’s rain related. But it is, as I saw when it started hailing one night. He looked terrified, crouching in a corner, hugging the wall as if he were being pelted with bits of ice. I doubt that he’s ever experienced rain directly, though I know he wouldn’t like that either. If I want to totally mess with his mind, I have only to flick a few drops of water at him when my hands are wet and he’s taking up more than his fair share of the kitchen. I’m not proud of myself for doing this, but it’s a cruel streak I can’t seem to control. I actually remonstrate with myself afterward: “You are baaad,” but I can’t stop myself from grinning wickedly at his startled attempts to discover where the water is coming from while he frantically licks at his back. But he doesn’t even know the rain on the roof is wet—what bothers him is the sound and the fury, signifying—something—I don’t know what.

When I first noticed this strange behavior, I tried to pet and comfort him, but he wasn’t assured in the slightest; he just turned his head anxiously away, looking toward the ceiling and the rattling windows. I tried to hold him, but he doesn’t like to be held at the best of times, so he tolerated that for about a minute and then I had to put him down (as in “on the floor,” not… down down). I even tried to reason with him, making little reassuring cooing sounds and explaining that he was perfectly OK and nothing bad would happen to him. Obviously that was pointless, but it’s weird how you always, with animals, revert to human reasoning when direct interspecies communication fails. “If you just stay out of the kitchen when I’m making dinner, you won’t get flicked with water, will you?” Or: “You’re not wet, are you? The rain isn’t coming in, is it? Then what are you afraid of?”

Coming upon him hiding in the downstairs bathroom, the only room with no windows, and feeling helpless to do anything for him, I felt like Pookie’s Higher Self. Like any higher self, I could see the big picture; I could see that he lives in a fine shelter (if I do say so myself), one that’s sturdy and reliable, and that he’s safe no matter how afraid he might feel in the moment. But the fear takes over the lower self, and there’s no reasoning with it. I don’t even know if I believe in higher selves, but if they exist, how powerless they must feel to help us, how loving they must feel toward us….

When the rain stops, Pookie forgets all about his earlier terror and is happy to curl up in his sheepskin-lined bed with its attractive Southwestern motif and dream his mysterious dreams… or to gaze at me with love-besotted eyes, head at a tilt, hoping for any crumb of Divine Love I am willing to bestow upon him… at least until I drag out the vacuum cleaner, and then his pea brain goes into action again and he assumes the terror position under the dining room table.

Pookie knows only love and fear. Maybe he’s not so different from his “higher self” and oh-so-complicated mistress after all.

God spelled backwards

Dogs have been in the news and on my mind ever since the horrific death of Diane Whipple in San Francisco. When simply walking out of her apartment, she was so viciously mauled—by a dog that was on a leash held by one of its owners—that by the time the police arrived, the body was naked and there was hardly any evidence of her clothing, just little bits of cloth and a ton of blood. Someone said to me that that incident probably didn’t help my fear of dogs any. I said the dog didn’t give dogs a bad name as much as its owners, a married couple, have given people a bad name. They blame the victim and take absolutely no responsibility for the attack, show no remorse. (In one telling detail, the owner on the scene didn’t get around to checking the victim’s pulse afterward, because she was busy looking for her keys in the blood-soaked hallway.) There are so many disturbing aspects to this story—the prison attack-dog-ring connection; the “punishment” that only bars the owners from keeping dogs for the next 3 years (no criminal charges have yet been filed); the fact that the victim’s female partner can’t sue for wrongful death because they weren’t legally married (and of course they couldn’t get legally married)—that to me, the dog itself is a crucial but almost secondary element, like the smoking gun or bloody knife wielded by a murderer. If I’m going to extrapolate from dog stories to life, I’d rather do it with the following….

The universe is infinitely correlated.

—Deepak Chopra

I am not a dog person, to say the least. If dogs were as standoffish as cats, I wouldn’t have any problem with them; I could admire their finer qualities from a distance. But then dog people wouldn’t like them, and we’d see a lot more ferrets running around. Pot-bellied pigs, something like that.

Dogs seem so intrusive to me; they’re always invading my space. And they have way too much saliva. To me, cats are a thinking person’s animal, because they have a little dignity (except Pookie when he wants his tuna-flavored laxative, but even then, he keeps all four feet on the floor). Also, cats can entertain themselves, usually by napping.

I think there must be a bad-dog incident deep in my past. In the only recurring dream I’ve ever had in my life, which I had around the age of 6, a dog was biting me, and I would wake up with a pain in my side. Maybe this dream-dog was a metaphor for darker, more sinister invasions of my space, I don’t know. Anyway, back in those days in our small town, and especially out in the country, people didn’t keep their dogs inside or control them in any way. And they certainly didn’t “walk” them—the dogs walked all by themselves—or ran, rather. You simply couldn’t ride your bike or walk past a dog in its yard without its chasing after you, snarling and barking. Were these dogs “all bark and no bite”? Maybe, but they terrified me. On the other hand, we had a gentle collie named Dollie, but I bonded better with our cats, Smokey and Mickey, and with our parakeet, Tweetie Pie, who used to sit on the rim of my glasses and peck at my teeth. I loved feeling his soft feathers against my cheek.

Anyway, this is not supposed to be Mary’s pet history, this is a dog story, so let’s get on with it. I was walking home from Unicorn Printing one day when I saw two little brown dogs running at top speed from the Circuit City parking lot straight toward the road. Yapping, ears flapping, they were the very picture of joyous doggy abandon. I froze. Somehow I knew exactly what was going to happen, even though traffic is light on that part of Bellam Blvd. The dogs crossed the median strip and ran into the other side of the road, and that’s when I heard the thump and the yelp—one dog had been hit. The driver, an older woman, just kept driving. I don’t think she noticed she’d hit anything. In that moment, I wished with all my heart to be somewhere else, wished I could just keep walking and let someone else deal with it. But I was the only pedestrian around, I had no choice.

I crossed the road and stood over the dog, not knowing what to do. She was still alive and obviously in pain. In a few moments, a young guy in a station wagon with a big dog in the back stopped and got out. I was so grateful, I could have hugged him. I asked him if he could take the dog to the vet—I figured he must be a dog lover, unlike me—but he said he didn’t know where the vet was, he didn’t live around here. So I made a split-second decision and offered to go with him. At that moment, a truck driver stopped and gave us a towel to wrap the dog in, and we got in the station wagon and took off. I held the dog on my lap; she was so smooth and so small. (Don’t ask me about breed, I have no idea.) I had one of those wild, irrelevant thoughts you have in an emergency—that I was lucky it wasn’t a big dog, that it wasn’t bleeding on me or thrashing around or trying to bite me in its distress. For that matter, I was lucky with the driver. This guy was young and personable; what if he had been big and scary-looking; what if it had been a carload of guys? I’ll take dogs over carloads of guys any day. How far did my Good Samaritan responsibility extend?

From the moment I first saw the dogs running, I felt like I had stepped into another world. I guess this is the nature of emergency. Time slows down; you find you can’t use your brain so good. Everything seemed to happen on cue—me alone, helpless with the injured dog; then the guy in the car, the guy in the truck, the decision to move. It all felt overdetermined, like a dream or a fairy tale, or like a play—as if I were only saying my lines, even though I had no memory of having tried out for this part, let alone rehearsed it.

The driver introduced himself as Paul, and I directed him to the East San Rafael Veterinary Clinic, where I take my cats. As we slowly crept down Francisco Blvd. in the rush hour traffic, I could hardly believe what I was doing. There I was, in a moving vehicle, with the two creatures I fear most in the world: Man and Dog. Two dogs: Paul’s big dog was standing in back of me, literally breathing down my neck. I kept moving my head away, but it didn’t seem appropriate to say, “You know, I don’t really like dogs. Could you get this beast away from me?”

The ride was taking forever, as the little dog panted softly in my lap. At some point, I realized someone would have to pay the vet. I mentioned this to Paul, and he didn’t say anything. I took this as a bad sign. I was willing to pay my share, but he was in this as deep as I was. When we finally pulled into the vet’s driveway, I got out and walked quickly toward the door, carrying the dog. As I was about to go in, I realized Paul wasn’t behind me. I had a moment’s panic. I had left a folder of original art from the publisher I was working for on the floor of the car. What if Paul, having got me there, decided to take off and leave me to deal with the vet bill? I would have no way to find him. And would someone who would do a thing like that try and track me down to give my stuff back? All this flashed through my mind in a second. Paranoid much? Well, yeah. But I guess Paul was just tending to his own dog—or having a quick talk with his conscience—because in a moment he came and joined me.

The dog died just as we got her into the examining room, and I burst into tears. I generally hate crying in front of men, because I think it reinforces their feeling of superiority. But my take on male-female relations will have to wait for another time. The vet said the SPCA would take care of the body, so that let us off the hook about paying.

I asked Paul if he would drive me back, and he said of course. On the way, we talked about how fast death can strike and how ordinary our respective days had been up to that point. I had been on a routine photocopy run; he had been shopping at Circuit City. We were both supposed to be home by now, sitting peacefully at the computer or thinking about dinner. How Rude is Death? I asked him to let me off at the scene of the accident—I had a momentary, reflexive fear of letting him see where I lived—but he insisted on driving me the rest of the way. I’m happy to report that he didn’t come back later to sexually assault me or burglarize my home. (I think it’s important to acknowledge all the times my fears don’t come true, rather than just forget about them and go on to the next one.)

I was shaken by the experience, which transcended my personal feelings about dogs—even threatened to change my personal feelings about dogs. Mon Dieu! Or: Mon Ueid! (Dieu spelled backwards.) The next day I went for a walk in the hills above Dominican College, and I saw the threat of death everywhere. Up ahead, a little dog stood in the middle of the road, barking furiously at me. I thought for sure a car was going to come speeding around the bed and hit her. A little farther on, I saw a deer with her big ears tuned to the sound of distant barking. I stood still, not wanting to scare her into the path of danger. Suddenly, a big dog came loping up the road toward us. My feelings were a mob scene. Was I afraid for myself, for the deer—or for the dog? Who was at risk here?

The deer bounded across the road and away before the dog spotted her. The dog’s humans called to him from down the hill, and he crashed through the woods toward their voices. I was left standing there alone, on full alert, like a guardian of the animal world—St. Mary of Assisi—but with no power to stop Death from striking again.

For the next two weeks, I kept reliving the moment when I saw the two dogs running toward the road. At my next therapy session, J said I had had a traumatic reaction, and we worked on it somatically for the whole hour. Afterward, she got this pensive look on her face, the way she does when she’s about to say something about herself and isn’t quite sure if she should cross that boundary. She said that the session had been a gift to her. She was leaving for Honduras that afternoon to help train trauma workers to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. She hadn’t actually done the trauma work in a while, so my experience gave her the practice right when she needed it. It seemed like such an unlikely connection, from the dog dying in my arms to the hurricane victims hundreds of miles away. But there it was. I felt honored to be a conduit for such a connection—a reminder that our actions have consequences far beyond what we can see.

It was as if that one brief moment in time—when my premonition of disaster was confirmed by the awful thump of tire on flesh and bone—had set off a series of ripples, like a pebble dropping in a pond—as if everything in my world were now being touched, in one way or another, by what had happened. And yet this event was so minor in comparison to more personal losses I’d experienced. Maybe that’s why the ripples were more visible—I wasn’t as deeply involved, so I noticed them more. I felt like I was getting a glimpse of the mechanism behind the “infinite correlation” of everything.

I sensed that there were many ripples that I would never even see. For instance, I wondered what had happened to the other dog, the companion to the one that had died. We hadn’t given that dog a second thought as we rushed the injured one off to the vet.

awakened from a catnap… to the sound of one dog barking…

Two days after the therapy session, I was taking a nap and was awakened by high-pitched barking outside my window. It sounded familiar—I ran to the window to see, and sure enough, it was the surviving dog from the accident, playing with a little girl. My heart was pounding as I debated what to do. I saw the little girl and the dog go around a corner to a row of units across the way, so I quickly got dressed and went to find them.

The Vietnamese woman who came to the door spoke little English, but I felt pretty language-impaired myself. In halting, shy sentences, I told her about the death of her dog. She thanked me and said, “We love her very much.” I was touched by that; I wanted to say, “So do I!” But my mind was racing with conflicting thoughts—Why do you let your dogs run in the street?! I pointed out where I lived, and after more smiling and mumbled phrases—“Sorry” and “Thank you”—I left. I wasn’t sure if I had gone over there to give something or to get something. I wasn’t sure what had been exchanged, if anything. But I was left feeling hyperaware of the connections that were still being played out—and hopeful that my showing up at her door had touched her in some way.

There were a few more ripples—like the time I was driving on my street and the surviving dog ran in front of my car—almost turning me into the inadvertent killer instead of the would-be savior. I felt a weird sense of responsibility to that dog, as if it were now up to me to keep him alive. Or the time I saw a neighbor boy trying to get the dog to attack a baby bird. I went out and talked to the boy and “saved” the bird—put it up in a nest in a nearby tree, out of harm’s way—checked on it later and it was gone. What had happened to it?

The two dogs and everything connected with them had assumed larger-than-life significance to me. The more ripples I saw, the more I looked for. I wanted to see the workings behind the façade. But I suspect that I mostly wanted proof of my own importance. I had placed myself at the center, and I wanted to know that there was a reason for my participation in the “original” experience—as if it only started when I came on the scene.

Of course, the ripples became more faint with time and then “disappeared.” But I’m sure I was witness to only the tip of the iceberg of those ripples—a metaphor I am not going to apologize for, take it or leave it—for example, who knows what effects the experience may have had on Paul’s life?

I first wrote about this incident a couple of years ago, so I have been going back and revising my account—adding details I didn’t have room for before, looking for any new perspective I may have gained with the passage of time. And as I did so, I started to get a little nervous. This is what I find so intriguing about writing. All writers say that you learn what you think by writing, and that’s certainly true for me. I may start out with a clear idea of what I want to say, but the more I stay with it, trying to make it truer and truer, the more my thoughts and feelings change. Writing is a lot like painting in that way; it takes you deeper.

I finally realized what was making me nervous. What if the death of the dog meant nothing to Paul except as a little story to tell his wife at dinner? What if the ripples started and stopped with me—meaning that all the connections and coincidences I had seen were products of my overactive imagination? What if I was choosing what to notice and what to ignore because I wanted to believe that Deepak is right, that the universe is infinitely correlated and thus my life and death, my time on this earth, are of vast importance? But what if “infinite correlation” means that everything is equally important because even the smallest thing is necessary to the whole? Then I am exactly as important as the bird flying past my window or the ants planning their next assault on my kitchen.

There’s no doubt that there are connecting threads running through all our lives, sometimes visible, sometimes not. But I seem to have an investment in collecting the proof of those threads. I want to believe that “when bad things happen to good people”—or to good dogs—there’s always a reason, a lesson, a connection, a guarantee of meaning. I wield my Deepak Chopra quotes and my metaphors and my synchronicities as if I can reduce the universe to fit in my little cup, rather than face the Not Knowing—the great, uncomfortable Void of that moment when nothing has yet been revealed, when anything can happen.

When I stood over that injured dog in the road—unprepared and inadequate—utterly without resources—sure only that I was not the right person to deal with a doggie-mergency because of my firmly held pet preferences—I was all unknowingly experiencing the moment at which Creation happens. It’s the moment when the past is of little help and the future is no help at all. Time deserts you, and you go forward on sheer instinct, purely responding to what has been put in front of you. It’s only afterward that you gather the bits of evidence and set about proving to yourself that you’re part of an immense, intricate puzzle, that there’s some bigger hand at work, moving you here and there, making your life worthwhile. But does being an intricate part of the puzzle increase one’s significance or diminish it? If the bird flying past my window is also an intricate part of the puzzle, then which of us is expendable? Neither? Both?

We say we want freedom, but we want safety—which is to say, knowledge—even more. We want to bargain with the universe—“I’ll do this good deed if I can be assured that the man won’t kidnap me and the dog won’t bleed in my lap.” But when this situation with the dog went down, choice was taken away from me—my preferences and personality and history became irrelevant—and I entered the Not Knowing. I could have kept walking, and Paul would still have stopped, and the dog would still have died. Do I have to imagine a mini-“It’s a Wonderful Life” to figure out the difference I made? Why is it so important to think I made a difference? Why isn’t it enough that my life has its face value, like every other life? Do I have to be trivially, remotely related to disaster victims in Honduras (as opposed to directly and meaningfully, like J) to feel that I deserve to be on this earth? Why this constant quest for meaning? Why that word “deserve”?

I do believe that Not Knowing is the greatest gift we humans receive, but it’s the sort of gift (to steal someone else’s joke) that when you receive it, you say to God, “You shouldn’t have.” Like most of us, I do everything I can to avoid such moments, to avoid being in the new, the now, the unrehearsed. I live in the past, in repeat experiences, looking over my shoulder, assessing the tracks I left behind. All I know is what I see receding in the distance behind me, as I marvel at what has already come and gone.

***

Over the years, I have adopted many ways of organizing experience into meaning. I discovered politics in the ninth grade, enamored of John F. Kennedy’s idealism (my mother scoffed at my innocence, said all elections were rigged; only with the Bush-Gore election have I begun to wonder if she was right); took a sharp turn to the right when I became a devotee of Ayn Rand and a would-be voter for Barry Goldwater (I was a little too young to vote when he ran on his “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice” platform); drifted left in college, gravitated toward SDS, though I never actually joined; voted for Eldridge Cleaver when I finally turned 21—one of the few acts of my youth that I sincerely regret.

In Maryland in the early ‘70s, I met Peggy at a small college where she was a student and I was a librarian, and we became part of a leftist, faculty-led political group. She and I were the first known gay couple on campus, and we lived with two professors—a Greek communist in exile from the junta and the first radical feminist the college had ever seen.

Politics were important to me—the U.S. government was not only waging war on the Vietnamese but also killing Black Panthers and college students at home—but the political construction of reality didn’t satisfy my deepest needs for meaning. For one thing, there was no room for psychological factors in our analysis, so you had to fit your personal life into the cracks of the bigger picture. As “working class dykes,” Peggy and I had an edge in that world, even though our friends knew absolutely nothing about the working class despite their interest in Marx and Mao. And the group became increasingly sectarian, obsessing about the errors of other leftists—those bloody Trotskyites! One night when we were hanging out, drinking wine, we played a kind of political parlor game. As part of the game, we had to reveal our deepest wish. I knew better than to say “to be happy,” so I said something to the effect of “The communists will take over, and there will finally be peace and justice in this imperialist hellhole of a country.” That was my belief system at the time, but on some level I knew I was slanting the truth, that something was missing.

After Peggy graduated and we moved out to California, we were cut off from the political climate in which we had met, and we were exposed to other mindsets, to say the least. Exploring this new world, I took a drawing class, and the teacher turned me on to the Seth books—Seth was a nonphysical being who was channeled through a woman named Jane Roberts. I became enamored of the metaphysical realm as a kind of backlash against those years of leftist political indoctrination, and my worldview took a 180-degree turn.

Because of the—for me—radical idea that “you create your own reality,” I spent a lot of time overinterpreting everything that happened to me as a kind of personal message from the universe that I was creating. (If I was creating it, then why would I need to get messages from “myself”?) Once, I grabbed my cat Radar to keep him from attacking another cat, and he bit me on the hand. It didn’t take me long to notice that the wound was in exactly the same spot where my baby sister was touching my hand in a photograph of us from 1954. Somehow, I saw the picture as (a) a premonition of the wound-to-come-some-22-years-later and (b) a vision with which to heal myself. It was as if the universe was winking at me with every image, every juxtaposed word, object, or experience. And so I turned everything into symbolism, the “higher meaning” being much more important to me than the direct experience. I suspect I have not made much progress in this area.

I moved on from Seth when I discovered painting for process, or, as it is also described, painting as a spiritual practice. The beauty of painting is that it’s nonverbal (though I can get plenty verbal about it), and so there is one place where I don’t really know what’s going on, and I don’t have to. But the desire to understand my life and my place in the world still exerts a strong pull on me, as witness this ‘zine.

In essence, I think I have been a “meaning machine” since birth. I was having philosophical debates with myself at least by the age of 8 or 9, if not before. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in this. Kids are seeing everything new and haven’t yet learned to either accept the essential mystery of existence or create a belief system with which to wrassle the mystery to the ground. But I remember clearly the moment in which I “popped into” this reality. One day my father, a master of clichés—he lacked the legendary gift for language of our Irish ancestors—yelled at me, “Wake up to the fact that you’re alive!”—by which he wasn’t making a metaphysical point, he was merely expressing his irritation with my slowness in bringing him his coffee or rolling his Bugler cigarettes. I had heard that expression from his lips many times before—along with other golden oldies like “I’m going to knock you into the middle of next week!” or “I’ll knock you for a month of Sundays!” or “I’ll give you something to cry about!” He never hit me, but he threatened me constantly, as if he could raise welts by the sheer repetition of words. Maybe that is an Irish thing, I don’t know.

But that day I heard the words “Wake up to the fact that you’re alive” literally, and I went Poof! and realized that I was alive! It wasn’t that I had never been self-conscious; I had always been extremely shy and hated being the center of attention. But I had never been consciously aware of my existence before, and it was quite an amazing revelation. I am alive, on this earth. I am ME. Whoa.

***

So the ripples from the death of the little brown dog go backward as well as forward, because everything I’ve ever experienced—my physical birth, my metaphysical birth into self-awareness, my choice of college and profession and partner, my move to California, my decision to walk instead of drive to the copy center—brought me to that place and time where I saw two dogs running toward the road. And I wasn’t even at the center of that event, except in my own mind. There’s an infinite number of centers and an infinite number of ripples from each center and each interaction between centers and all around the peripheries, going in all directions at once. It’s not possible to trace all the ways in which any of us affects the world, old Jimmy Stewart movies notwithstanding.

A few pages back, I asked, “Why this constant quest for meaning? Why that word ‘deserve’?” Well, “deserve” is certainly a useless word. I’m alive, whether I deserve to be or not. It’s a gift. And my quest for meaning is also pretty useless, because “understanding” will never really prepare me for the future. Not Knowing will find me again, and then I will be just as bereft of resources as I was when I stood over the injured dog—as it should be, because Creation demands complete surrender to the moment. You lose yourself in that moment because your “self” is not much good to you then. Greater forces are at work, and need to be.

So I do my backward looking not as preparation for the future, as if I could study for the test of life, but because it’s in my Buddha-nature to do so and because I enjoy doing it so much. This realization is gold in itself, because it’s my habit to disparage my desire to look for meaning. It’s my habit to disparage myself for being the kind of person I am rather than some other, undoubtedly better kind of person, the kind who likes to travel to foreign countries or jump out of airplanes, as if only the exotic and the extreme can bring the New, when the New is all around us every day, in both the simplest and most complex forms. Gee, I feel like Dorothy returning from Oz.

It was an extraordinary thing in my life that a little brown dog took her final ride on my lap and died in my dog-disparaging arms. I don’t have to justify or explain this—though I’ve enjoyed trying—and you don’t have to care—though I hope you do. After all my careful analysis and ripple-tracing, I have only one thing to say: Wake up to the fact that you’re alive. We are all the pebble dropping in the pond, and the ripples we send go on forever.

birdsong

Birds know the rain is coming. They gather excitedly on lawns, and as I walk by, they release themselves in clouds of chirpy panic, flustering and fluttering ahead of me. In the trees, other birds are outlined clearly against the latticework of bare branches. They are as still as a painting, secure in their visibility. But the birds in the dense bushes come rushing out of hiding to escape from me. Strange to think that safety can be found in exposure, and that danger can invade one’s hiding place.

Birds saved me once. Rejected in love, lost in suffering, I looked out the window at the desolate rain and was astonished to see hundreds of birds. They covered the lawns, the street, the tops of cars, the telephone wires; they burst into and fled the scene, filling the sky. It was a powerful sight that shocked me into sudden happiness. My heart felt too small to receive this benediction—but the benediction remained, perched like a bird on a wire, carrying me through the next days of sorrow with a tiny smile and an unfamiliar feeling of hope.

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