Last week we were at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History. It’s a small museum and very kid-friendly. They have a little planetarium, an outdoor play space with a stream, pumps and buckets for kids to play with, bamboo poles to build creative shelters. Out front they have a 72-foot skeleton of a blue whale. The bones are from three young male whales, one that was beached in 1980 and two others that washed ashore in 2007. A friend of ours helped butcher one of the latter. He was asked because he’s had no sense of smell since being hit by a truck on his motorcycle years ago and having almost his entire body rebuilt. It is incredible to stand in the belly of that whale and marvel at its size.
The museum has a number of raptors that have been wounded and can’t be released back into the wild. They are out in the sun every afternoon for visitors to get close to and ask questions about. We’d seen several of them on prior visits but this time there was a young falcon that caught my eye. She was stunning. The young man taking care of her told us her story – she’d been shot in the wing in Los Angeles, rescued, cared for and then she found a permanent home at the museum. Every few minutes she would spread her wings in an attempt to fly. My heart ached as I watched her. With a deep sadness in his eyes, her keeper said that most of the birds quickly give up and no longer reach for flight, but not her. She kept trying, refusing to accept the loop on her leg as permanent.
I’ve thought often about that beautiful bird with the intelligent eyes in the last week, about her attempts to break free from her situation, about the long years she can live in captivity and if there will ever come a day when she too gives up the dream. I thought of the human spirit. Of how we can be shot, beaten, raped, imprisoned and still, our spirits can soar. I read recently about a group of women in Congo who have lived through incomprehensible horror and are working to create positive change in their country. The world is full of such stories (if you’re not familiar with any, I recommend reading Half The Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn). The world is also full of people who feel broken, beaten down, defeated, people who are so deeply wounded they only know how to wound others, people who have given up. I believe it is still possible for those people to fly. I believe we are all meant to be beacons of light, though perhaps not in this lifetime.
My friend who was hit by the truck essentially died after the accident and was brought back to life. He describes the experience as akin to taking off a lead jacket and soaring. He had young children at the time and wasn’t ready to go, but he says it was so beautiful that he came back with no fear of death. He will often seek out people who’ve lost loved ones in tragic ways and share his experience with them if they are open to hearing it. He, and others with similar experiences offer us the hope that if the brilliance of our spirits cannot prevail here in our physical bodies, it will shine again when we leave.
It seems to me though, that the goal of this life is to be our unique, luminous selves. To be ourselves, with full awareness and acceptance of our quirks and challenges, our imperfections, and at the same time to hold the vision of living as the best version of who we dream we can be. That might mean a resolution to not lose our temper for a year. It might mean embracing our Nerd Thug Swagger while vowing to speak our truth more often. It might mean creating a beautiful space to honor our creative souls or a site that aims to support and empower women entrepreneurs who are finding their way on the web. It might mean simply getting through the day in one piece with a life that has been completely altered by the ravages of cancer. The goal is not comparison (I am here, I should be there), nor is it perfection (impossible). It is to turn our faces in the direction of trust and take baby steps toward the belief that we are where we are meant to be, that we are who we are meant to be and that we are worthy of our own love.
Wondering how to do that? I’ll be exploring that in a subsequent post. A simple question to ask yourself in any moment is, What would Trust (or Love) do in this situation? Even if you find yourself unable to act on the answer, or if no answer comes, the act of asking the question will help take you out of your habitual patterns.
Kristin Noelle says
Wow, this is so beautifully, powerfully put. And of course I can’t help but love the trust question. I’m dreaming up a piece of art for one of my walls and had this line go through my mind a few times this morning as I did so: “In all things there is the possibility of learning to trust.”
“If you believe you cannot do it, you cannot do it. So better dispense with beliefs.” wrote Karen Maezen Miller to me yesterday when I felt like putting one foot in front of the other was simply impossible.
The belief, or faith, in my self set my body in motion again. In Dutch “trust” can also be translated as “belief” and to me they are one and the same.
Wow, Alana, this is so powerful. Thank you. I love this image of the bird. It’s so heartbreaking and yet so true as to how so many of us live. I remember that museum. Do they still have the butterflies? Thank you so much for this. My own heart soared when reading it.
Ah. Yes. Such important questions, and so beautifully and thoughtfully written.
I love the story of the bird. It reminds me of all the fits and starts and stops I have made, and why I keep trying… why we all do.
It amazes me how your writing and the thoughts you put out there go from strength to strength. Forwarding this to a friend who, like me, really needs to read it.
i think you helped me find my word! xoxo
I had to post because all during the yoga pose today I felt like this falcon you befriended. It was beautiful to feel my own vulnerable strength and my wings. I love you!! And celebrate with you!
wholly jeanne says
there is so much i nod in agreement with here, sugar. the bird and her attempts to break free from her captivity reminds me of a conversation i had with my son tonight, a philosophical wondering about how some people – what characteristics and traits and attitude and fortitude propel people out of their captivity (be it cultural, educational, religions, societal, familial, geographical, or otherwise) right into their own glorious, unique, luminous selves. and when i read “To be ourselves, with full awareness and acceptance of our quirks and challenges, our imperfections, and at the same time to hold the vision of living as the best version of who we dream we can be,” i stand and cheer in enthusiastic agreement. you have so eloquently said what i see as the essential purpose of 365 Altars (and hey, thanks for the link, sug). that is the way i want each one of us to see our own lives. if we did, if we could manage to do this, can you imagine how things would change? i love you, sugar. love you so very, very much.
Kristen @ Motherese says
My friend Pamela sent me here and I’m so glad and grateful that she did. I doubt that she knows that I am fascinated by raptors, by their intelligence and resourcefulness, but having the chance to read about them and then to reflect on the lessons you offer are gifts for me today.
Thank you for the inspiration.