I take off my necklace before yoga practice, lean forward to lay it on the glass tabletop in my courtyard. I’m not paying attention. I wake up partway through the act. There is something alive on the table. I make a little noise, wave my hands, knee-jerk startle, before I come to all the way and see who it is. It’s a small, scruffy male house finch, touched with orange-yellow. He is sitting in the shade of the umbrella facing away from me, his feathers unkempt. “Oh, I’m sorry,” I say. “You scared me.” I laugh because it is funny being scared by a bird. I bring seed in a sturdy metal dish, water in a red glass bowl. I move with care, but I push them close. He is missing one eye, partly blind in the other, I think. I murmur gentle sounds, gentle wishes. He turns toward my voice, moves his head as though maybe he can get a kind of read of my basic shape. He is not alarmed. I let him be, and he steps onto the edge of the metal bowl to eat. He is slow and steady. He eats for a long time while I do sun salutes beside him, careful not to swoop my arms up too swiftly each time I rise. I wonder if this is the most food he’s been able to have for a long time. I wonder if he’s nearing his end. After, I sit on my yoga mat and look up at him. He’s drinking the water, scooping up mouthful after mouthful. It is so dear to watch it brings tears to my eyes. He’s so beautiful, all delicate grace. I glance away, and then he’s gone. I bow forward, ask the bird gods for mercy. When I go to L.A., I leave the bowls on the table for him just in case.
I peek out the front door to the courtyard. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I have to come back out.” The finch fly off, quiet and light. I’ve already disturbed them once this morning, filling the feeders, rinsing the big terra cotta saucer I use for the bird water bowl. “I forgot to get the paper,” I tell them. I swing the door wide and the doves take off before I see them, one crazy-loud whoosh of wings. “Too many!” I call after them. Too many of them for my little courtyard. I walk to the gate, pick up my paper from the top of the wooden fence where my kind neighbor places it for me. I dawdle without meaning to, find myself stroking the native plant in the pot beside the sliding glass door, the one that makes tiny yellow flowers in the spring. A hummingbird perches on a bougainvillea branch, chittering. I think she’s the one who’s taken over the feeder outside my living room window. I cross back to the front door, and a familiar sweetness settles in me. The feeders are all filled, ready for my birds. The eight palm volunteers are spruced up in their blue pot, the Mexican petunia trimmed, the mullein happy. I climb the steps to my trailer, scanning the courtyard. There’s nothing more I could want, I think. Then lightning swift comes the next thought, nothing except for my two cats to be alive and here with me. I feel my loss, three years old now, and lift my eyes. The waning crescent moon hangs just above the open door, greeting me. I stand on the steps, and I know I can keep my deep, quiet contentment, can hold my joy, my loss, my longing. I can hold it all.
I hesitate to plunge into the rushing gutters on my way to the creek path. I am not in my usual kid-in-the-rain mode. It’s cold, and I am all reluctant adult. I remind myself I have wool socks on to keep my feet warm even when they’re wet. For a second I waver, think of turning back, but I step into the water instead, surprised by the strength of the current. I’m stunned when I see the creekbed. The water fills it, half a short city block wide. It is moving fast. I’m exhilarated. And I worry about the rabbits, the squirrels, the insects. I hope they were able to escape. I watch a black phoebe flitting about near the water’s edge, the only sign of life. I am afraid he is too close to the rushing water. At the footbridge, a handful of people take videos with their phones. I lean over to watch the water where it drops under the bridge. It makes me dizzy. I don’t expect this quantity of water, the swiftness of it. It scares me. Thrills me. I face the river as it comes from the mountain. I know my hope is nothing in the face of this. There is no way everyone was safe, and I grieve for the wildlife. I walk home beside this huge foreign beast moving beside me. I dream of cottontails hidden in the brush, safe, several feet above the water. Hours later I can still feel it, the magnitude of moving water, the weight of it, the power, like the memory of the rocking boat when you’re back on solid land again. I wonder how long it will stay with me, the water’s presence layered like this over everything.
Home from a trip, evidence of visitors in my courtyard. First sight through the gate, swinging open, two big bags of bird seed, one big bag of Meyer lemons. My friend Bob, kind and generous. I phone. “My birthday isn’t until April,” I tell him. Teasing, trying to be witty. Grateful. The other visitor is loved, too, but the evidence less welcome. Feathers carpet the cement. A whole mourning dove, at least. My hawk was here, successful, maybe more than once. I grieve for who died. But I can’t be sorry the hawk didn’t go hungry. It lingers in me when he visits again. I shouldn’t want him here. But he is exquisite. There are fewer white crowned sparrows, fewer house finch since I’ve been home again. Little by little it sinks in, why they are scarce. But how can I wish the hawk away? I say metta instead. May my little ones be safe. May my hawk fill his belly somewhere else.
I feel my faith in humankind wobble for the first time in my sixty years. It’s a smaller thought that sparks it. Not the massacre of eleven Jewish people in their temple. Not the white supremacist in Kentucky who’s unable to force open the doors of a largely black church so he goes to Kroger and shoots two black people there. Not the caravan of mostly Hondurans heading to our border, fleeing violence and poverty the U.S. has a hand in making, our president bringing in the military, treating the Hondurans like terrorists instead of finding a way to simply process their requests for asylum. Not the 15 pipe bombs mailed to people who visibly oppose him. I know these things and more—the 189 who died in the plane near Jakarta—have layered themselves inside me, have brought me to this moment, this possible tipping point, sitting in my courtyard in the morning warmth. But it’s two disparate things I hear on NPR that come together in my head. Some crazy high number of children in Europe with respiratory ailments linked to air pollution, and our president’s intention to drill for oil in Alaska (and everywhere he can). Compared to the endless string of recent horrors, these two seem almost mild. But what if we get past the fear and hate, and it’s too late to save our planet? I sip my tea, fenugreek with coconut milk and honey, third day without caffeine. I’ve always believed we can turn this around. I hold the warm cup in the bowl of my hands, savor the bitter and the sweet on my tongue. And I feel my belief in us wobble for the first time in my life. I don’t land there, don’t let doubt all the way in. But the wobbling alone scares me, and I cry. I make anxious circles with my fingers, purse my lips, swallow the last of my tea. I take a breath, grateful I didn’t topple. I refuse to believe it’s too late for us to restore our planet, too late to turn this around. Not just global warming, not only the condors and the wolves, but finding our way all the way clear, to a world where everyone can thrive, be safe, have dignity, know peace. Que nunca tengas hambre. Que nunca tengas sed. May you never hunger. May you never thirst.
Monday morning I say prayers for the spirits of Syrians killed by poisonous gas and for the people who love them. I pick dead blossoms from the three big pots of pansies and pull soft, fuzzy, pale green weeds nestled among them. (I’ve decided to do one task each morning toward a clean courtyard.) I break off a pansy bud by mistake. I set it in water, place the small glass beside my bed. The deep purple against the white wood and the soft curve of the tiny stem makes me cry. I cook brown rice, pack pears and peanuts for my snack between writing group and sangha. I still want to do my sitting practice and a tiny bit of yoga before I have to leave, so I keep my writing short. I cry more often these days, small things like the bread and butter or the pansy life stopped short. Big things like dead bodies in Syria, like being afraid about my health or feeling like a failure. But they are brief, quick moments only, and I tend to be kind to myself when they arise. I count to 29 to blend my garlic lemon drink for my liver, and I remember seeing Amma in the grocery store last night, how much better she looked. The memory makes me glad for her, grateful for her Tibetan doctor. And in the same breath, still counting seconds while the blender fills the room with its loud machine noise, I recognize again the part of me who still believes nothing I do will ever be enough. The tears come, but so does a deep certainty that I am healing (louder than that other voice? louder than the blender?) and a wash of dearness for myself and my good efforts.
A miss a call from a friend of mine wanting information about the “bad vet” I went to with Sable. He and his husband have an old dog who’s been ailing for a good while now. I am upset with myself for not knowing it was urgent when my cell phone rang during our writing group, for not knowing I needed to answer the phone right then. I’d left him a message just that morning. I assumed he was calling me back. It’s hours before I’m able to listen to his message. I try to reach him, but I worry I may be too late. All I can do is send the three of them metta, good wishes, prayers that whatever is happening might be the best it can be. I do this every day for a week. One night I dream we’re at a gathering of some kind, forty people in a big dark room with a high ceiling. I wonder later if it’s a wake or a vigil. I am kneeling on the floor, writing my metta wishes on the polished concrete. My arm moves the shiny marker in big wide strokes. I write long feet of metta for a dog I have not met, for the people who love him.