The Birds Still Sing

In the dappled shadows
Beneath the leaves of
Mangrove trees that breathe in
Sunlight and saltwater
I walk
And slow my breath
 
And in the stillness
Of that moment
Against the silver gleam of green
Grass shimmering 
Wet with morning dew
I hear the birds sing
 
A hundred different sounds fill the sky
Whistles and twitters
Warbles and chitters
A wondrous symphony
swoops and swirls
And falls like gentle rain
Onto my ears
Tuned away from chaotic fears
 
There is a rose
That captures my eye
A red blossom cupped to the sky
The gentle scent, I suppose,
Reminds me of the papery skin
Of my grandmother
On a farm
In the middle of long ago
With her pantry stocked for months on end
And a garden of vegetables to tend
And a shelf full of homemade biscuits
 
History is recorded in the past
But lived in the present
Or in the imagined days of tomorrow
But come back now, here to now
For the birds still sing
And the grass is still green
And red roses still turn their heads to the sun
And today’s script is yet to be written

Just a bit discombobulated!

If ever there was a time to use the word discombobulated, this is it. It’s been a long and unsettling summer but just as the air clears from the ravaging bush fires and Autumn touches her umber paint brush to the leaves on the trees, we find ourselves, yet again, in a surreal world for which we have no experience.

Life has changed dramatically, but also looks remarkably the same. The sun still shines, the grass is still green, buildings stand and there are people and busses and work to be done and bills to be paid. And yet, we suddenly find ourselves in a world where an invisible foe has thrown our daily rhythms and patterns into complete disarray. 

Perhaps most starkly, we are being asked to forego something that is intrinsic to our nature – social contact.  Jazz hands have replaced handshakes for now but perhaps we might soon find ourselves confined to onscreen conversations and WhatsApp Wine time. Social distancing is difficult because it is foreign, and as a result uncomfortable. We like gathering in groups – park runs, church services, footy games, the theatre and on and on. So much of our life is built around connecting to others, and so much of our wellbeing comes from being in community with others. To have this disrupted leaves us confused and clearly in a state of panic.

I think a lot of (my) anxiety comes from endlessly anticipating possible outcomes. Will someone in my family get sick, will we run out of toilet paper, will we go into lock down, will the schools close? We have so much access to information, but it’s hard to separate out the facts from the fear and general nonsense – and we tend to trust anecdotes and advice from friends and family more than our leaders. This pandemic situation is inherently uncertain. The lack of control, and perhaps general distrust in the system, creates a sense panic. Panic takes on a life of its own, seemingly unstoppable, as the nation gears up for an anticipated “lock down” (that has yet to be flagged as appropriate). Social contagion and mob behaviour interest me but being in the middle of all those empty shelves is scary.

Lock down? Even that phrase sounds ridiculous. As if we’ve been thrust into a dystopian novel. Just watching Years and Years was unsettling, and this has some of the same feels. Perhaps that is the thing – we’ve only really experienced this type of thing vicariously, on the screen or in history books. It feels familiar, but only at a safe distance – one you can leave behind and head into a coffee shop to recalibrate from.  

But of course this is not a dystopia. It is a situation that requires an unprecedented response, one of which we are capable. For once, the enemy is not our fellow humans, but one that we can jointly fight together. We have a strong health care system, largely intelligent leaders and a plan of attack. We are a stoic nation of fair minded people, most of whom will call for calm and kindness, and not resort to violence over toilet paper. The sun will come up tomorrow, and at some point, life will return to some semblance of the ordinary.

I lurch towards anxiety in the daily course of normal life. In an effort to maintain some sanity and keep my mind still, I am practicing being present: being in the moment and interrogating it for joy. I am tending to the garden of my own mind, and trying to clear it of the weeds of fear that could so easily take hold.

Yesterday I bought a plant, admired the beauty of the setting sun and enjoyed sparring with my kids over the dinner table. Today I walked the dog in the silver dewy stillness of morning and listened to the birdsong that continues unabated in the blue sky of today. This crisis will pass but focusing all our energy on hanging in there and just waiting for it to end also feels like a waste of precious time. Life goes on, whether the road is in shadow or the light.

Perhaps this is a lesson for life in general?  Although we feel most comfortable moving purposefully forward, meaning is found in the moments we have and the perspective we take within them. Despite the upheaval of our best laid plans, there is still beauty in the world to bask in, avenues for our curiosity and space for reflecting. Perhaps the gift of these torrid times is a reminder to slow down and enjoy what we have, when we have it, rather than always focussing so intently on the future.

Then I breathe

When anxiety comes upon me
Like a fluttering little bird
Wings beating against the cage of my chest
 
Then I breathe
 
I breathe the calming breath of nature’s forever connection
From the stars that birth the building blocks of us
To the leaves that sway in the breeze
 
I breathe into the space between things
The space between the you and the me
The space between the me and the trees
The space between the womb and the grave
And all the things we perceive
As separate.
 
And nature breathes with me
She ripples in the wind
The invisible wind
That caresses your skin
And the curve of my cheek
As we watch the waves rise and recede
Standing on the beach made from a thousand yesterdays

Bridging the boundary
That is but an illusion
Of time
And ego
And perception
 
I breathe into the space of invisible connection
I breathe away the illusion of the space between
I breathe stillness into the fluttering wings of the shuddering bird
Caught in the cavity of my chest.
 
 Sharlene Zeederberg, Feb 2020