A car door slammed and they took to the sky. A cloud of tiny black birds flapped their wings wildly in unison, as if ignited by the sudden fire of the same perfect idea. They exploded out of the tree. They flew over our heads, across the field, into the rest of the world. And then they were gone.
It is one of my favorite things to witness, that moment birds spread their wings and lift away from the sturdy perch. It is peaceful and it is fierce. It is miraculous, the way they pour themselves into the expectant air, the way they glide through the wind like a knife.
Most of the world is time when we’re not here – not yet born, or long gone. Our lives, though they can sometimes feel gruelingly long and insistently significant, are neither. Blink and we are gone. Sigh and we are forgotten. Laugh, cry, jump, scream, love, hate, sing, sound your barbaric yawps. Be loud and bold and rowdy. Feel as though your life is all there is, or will ever be. Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile birds take to the sky, over and over, noticed and unnoticed. How often do we consider the song of their flight? How often do their chirps and squawks imprint themselves onto our hearts? How often does the sight of their certainty as they step off of the branch set the precedence for bravery? How often does the great span of their wings leave us breathless? How often do they teach us that there are beautiful, magical things that we will never truly understand?
Because you understand, watching them, that you understand almost nothing.
As a child you longed to know what the birds know, how to fly, how it feels to spread out the wings of your body and float along the breeze. As an adult you still long for that deep, mysterious knowledge, even if it goes unnamed. You learn that it’s a silly thing to say that you wish you could fly, and it is silly, perhaps, to keeping wishing for the impossible. But it’s even sillier not to.
Hope, when it’s done right, is a form of flight. It is stepping off of the sturdy perch of reality into the expectant air of possibility. It is pouring yourself into the world. It is gliding through the tumultuous winds as though they were made of satin – that smooth, that tender. It is wondering what exists across the field, and then what exists beyond that. It is believing, always, that there is more to be discovered. There are more lessons to be learned. There are new perches to stand on and rest awhile until we’re ready, once more, to take flight.
And so this afternoon, when those tiny black birds erupted from the branches, I stood still for a moment to delight in their secret knowing. They did not chirp or squawk or make a single sound, but anyway they called to me. They tugged at the imprints other birds had left upon my heart. They floated through me like a knife.
Most of the world is time when we’re not here, but while we are, why not spend our time – however fleeting – stretching out the soft wings of our bodies and stepping off of the perch? Why not try, over and over, noticed or unnoticed, to take flight? Why not fly across the fields and into the rest of the world before we are gone forever?