For the past few weeks, every morning I find this tiny bird perched at the feeder my neighbor across the way installed just outside his window. The thing is, I’m thoroughly dense in the bird department. In other words, I wouldn’t know a whippoorwill from a sparrow , let alone its gender. But everything tells me it’s female. The way she moves, the way she’s so completely in tune with her body as she sits patiently waiting her turn at the feeder, unfettered by the human lounging around in sweats watching her.
Part of me loves this air about her, this radiating inner Zen with those God-given parts, while another part, the one not naturally hard-wired in this fashion, sulks slightly with envy. As women, most of us struggle with body image our whole lives. What we see in the mirror, what we imagine, what really is, the denial, the twisting ourselves into clusterfuck knots trying to fit someone else’s mold. It’s a long road, a painstaking stretch of self-loathing and self-doubt from that young girl to that older and hopefully wiser woman who has to figure shit out, break the spell of deception, and reclaim what society snatched away.
Beyond those graceful nuances, something else draws me to this particular furry creature. She has only one leg. Yes, I’m fully aware that many birds stand on one leg to minimize heat loss. However — despite my prior disclaimer I wasn’t part of the Audubon Society — after countless hours and cups of coffee sitting there watching her in action, there’s little doubt in my mind the only thing that plume is sheltering is heart and bone.
I have to admit, my first reaction to this disability elicits an outpouring of pity. My time invested makes me think of us as friends of the imaginary kind, like Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin. But then I stop myself. Stop with the sinking realization that pity is the absolute last thing she deserves. That and as living, breathing creatures, we all share in this commonality of existence which will undoubtedly from time to time leave us with those lost legs, broken wings, and I suspect warrior badges far worse to help remind us where we’ve been, how far we’ve traveled, the battles we’ve suffered, and what we’ve lost.
I don’t imagine for one second anyone or anything passes through this life unscathed. We all come away with those lessons that don’t come cheap. As a person with my own share of deficits and tragic losses weighing me down, I often find myself sidetracked from the most universal of truths: Real pain isn’t necessarily in the experience of those losses. Rather it’s in the aftermath of them when we find ourselves digging deep into a place we didn’t even know existed, then somehow we manage to push one foot in front of another. I don’t know about you, but this is what I call grit. The stuff we’re really made of. The true breakfast of champions.
Out of our greatest suffering and our deepest anguish, miracles arise.
Anyway, that’s my take on my little friend. Whether she agrees with me or not, it seems pretty safe to say I’ll never know. But as I sit here smiling wistfully to myself, watching her fly away, what I do know is that if this courageous ladybird can endure a few ruffled feathers along the way, so can I.