A few weeks ago, I rescued a bushtit. They are a type of bird so small they are more an absence than a presence. Around 3 inches long and weighing just 5 grams, they are a wisp of a creature, a phantom. They are designed to go unnoticed.
But that day I noticed because I had been forced into slowness for reasons I’ll not go into, other than to say they were reasons I greatly resented. But because of this slowness, I noticed the bushtit, I paid mind to this tiny, barely-there thing.
I speak and write often about the importance I see in slowness. I discuss this topic in the shiny language of true conviction, but I do not always embody my beliefs. I hate being a hypocrite, but I am one in this case because I am irrevocably tempted to the speed of rapidly-changing-attention, which comes by subconsciously (but also consciously) giving in to distractions. And, even worse, I am addicted to that delicious numbness that comes in the aftermath. I want to want to notice and to be still, but it is my instinct to bathe myself in busyness, so as to be barely present at all. Call it self-preservation I guess.
But also call it what it is – a bit of my own darkness to which I’d rather not have to admit. But admit to it I must because there it does be, and daily. I sometimes think I am just too afraid of what that stillness might show me about myself … that when the dust of my motion-addiction settles, I might not like the creature that becomes suddenly visible, the one that has companioned my thoughts for years. In the dust of distractions, that creature is unclear, a bit hazy at the edges, but the haunting of it is most certainly familiar to me.
And then there was this little bushtit, an illustration of the things that I miss when hurried and affixed to busyness. He reminded me to practice what I preach and to recall to mind that I do believe in the value of slowness. He called me out on my hypocrisy.
Little lesson from Above.
He was sitting in the center of the pavement, breathing heavily, but not moving at my approach. I supposed he’d been struck by a hurrying car racing along the street adjacent to our meet cute. I thought of how often I also likely wound the gifts God places in my path, all those things I run right into, but – much like the car that wounded this little bird – I encounter them often in the hit-and-run mode that comes when the internal gaze is fixed the past or future instead of the present.
The bushtit, meanwhile, didn’t say much. But he did preach quite loudly of all the small things that need rescuing that I usually can’t be bothered to see, let alone bend down to cradle in my hands. And the vital things are often the most delicate of gifts, which must be cradled in the hand as an offering, never grasped as possession to be kept. Such a grip will snuff the life right out of it.
Before I knew what I was doing I had wrapped the bushtit up in a handkerchief and started walking up the hill towards my parents’ house where I was staying. I thought very seriously about keeping this little gift for myself, for always, as my helpmeet. I saw him as a warm, feathered breath that encapsulated my need to slow down and notice. I wished him to become an emblem that reminded me to rescue small things that might otherwise cease to live.
Which begs the question: If a wounded bird on a sidewalk is not seen, does it make a life?
I sometime think about all those things I don’t give life to, those stories that would have come something living if I had gone down a path not taken. Especially those paths whose entrance I pass by more than once, those ones I’ve watched others go down. But whenever I pause to consider these paths, there is always something in the way – a sudden carpet of nettles, or a bushtit needing rescuing on a path I’m already on.
The bushtit began to stir in my hand. Not quite awake, but I loosened my fingers a little, trying to show him he was not a captive. And in that tiny motion I was struck by how easy it is to remind another that they can escape their prisons whenever they choose, while it is nearly impossible to even chance a glance at the possibility of my own flight. Facing and overcoming for this little creature was easy for me to do, but I don’t even want to acknowledge, and certainly not name, the monsters of my own self-imposed bondage.
This includes those small parts of my identity I cling to that were never even things I wanted to define myself by, but have somehow become a flotation device I now rely on. And although they are deflating, their growing absence has made me feel like I might sink under the surface into a depth I’m not ready for. It makes me feel unstable and a little desperate for breath.
The bushtit’s eyes began to flutter then. And, as if slowly awakening to the fact that he was a creature capable of flight, he stretched his wings – just part way, not quite ready to risk departure. Knowing the self and its capabilities is so difficult sometimes. There is a no man’s land somewhere between what I don’t want to be and what I’m trying to become, and it is in that middle ground where what I am has taken residence. I’d like to be more aware of that landscape, and yet it is so hard to gain purchase there.
I realized that it was in this in-between place that I needed to leave the bushtit – not at the sight of his injury, nor to be forever kept with me in comfort and security. I had to leave him in a place where he’d recover himself without having realized I’d played a part.
“I am rooting for you” I thought to say. And I made myself leave him in the shelter of a bush and walked away.
I rescued a bushtit that day.
Or maybe … he was the one rescuing me.