Close to a year ago now, before I’d actually heard the quote “put a bird on it,” (I was late to the Portlandia party) I decided to do just that, on my wrist, in black ink. It came after a year of active deliberation and thought, as many in my life know decision making is not always my strong suit.
The bird imagery became quite thematic in my life a couple years ago, the year that I often describe as my ‘rebuilding year.’ Plainly stated, this year was rough. Losses of relationships led to some extreme heartbreak, anxiety and confusion and in turn, quite a bit of soul/faith searching. In said time period some bad choices were made, along with some good – all however beneficial in the trajectory of my healing. It’s funny how heartbreak can define our decisions so well.
One day I was reading an excerpt from a book someone had given me years ago and I read this quote by A.B Simpson, “If the bird is going to fly it must keep away from fences and the trees, and trust to its buoyant wings. But if it tries to keep within easy reach of the ground, it will make poor work of flying.” It hit me in that moment that to truly soar with the wings I’d been given I must first cast out my fear and only after that would I truly be able to fly again. Only then would I be free.
I have taken this with me in many areas, as I have realized I am quite fearful by nature. A few days ago I was thinking with trepidation about my impending future plans (aggggain) when one of my residents sat down with me. He started telling me about a program that he’s working with, becoming a peer advocate. His job is to mentor and walk alongside people who are in a mental and physical state that he knows quite well, as he’s been there and experienced many of the same issues himself. I looked at this man as he spoke and I saw something different; a light. A light that only comes with courageous peace and once again found myself extremely humbled by my own shortsighted vision.
This morning I came into work to an email from a friend who does incredible work with the homeless population in Knoxville (keep your eyes on your inbox, she’ll be guest writing here soon!) with this poem attached:
by John F. Deane
The old man, out and almost-down, reeks
of dank doorways, of unwashed clothes; sits
by the church steps, a Styrofoam crushed mug
held up for coins; he sees us, indistinctly, shades
garnering small graces at his expense; hurt heron,
will sleep tonight in a cardboard refrigerator box
withstanding weather better than we do. Here,
underneath the layers of dirt and shabbiness
there is vulnerable flesh, its valleys, its portals
sacred as our own. Behind the blank though watchful
eyes, beyond the scars and stubble and beneath
the matted heron-grey topknot of his hair
there is a mind as friable as ours, and a soul
sought for by the wandering, the forlorn Christ—
heron, God’s loved leftover bird, slow to lift
out of muddied waters into a doubtful sky.
Tears filled my eyes as I read this. I pictured my muddied wings and where they’ve taken me, as a new prayer emerged from my heart; that each of these folks I get to work with would learn what it means to fly again. That the fear that keeps them among the fences and the impeding trees would be a thing of yesterday and they would once again begin to soar.
Photo taken by Nathan Crow. Accompanying tattoo on Aisea Taimani.