“If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.”–Thich Nhat Hanh
There is an old country adage that states not every hole has a snake. In other words, just because you saw a snake disappear into a hole doesn’t mean that every snake lives in a hole. Nor, does it mean that every recess in the ground will be home to a snake. This simple proverb is a warning guarding against stereotypes and preconceived beliefs/judgements.
As a resident of Ohio who works in WV, I have often heard my students and coworkers make fun of Ohio drivers.
“Ms. Hill, my mom was so mad this morning because this car was driving so slow in the passing lane. And, guess where the car was from? (Insert dramatic pause here.) Ohio! Of course!”
Likewise, when I worked in Ohio, there were numerous jokes about Kentucky drivers, and when I worked in Kentucky, there were jokes about both Ohio and WV drivers, depending upon a person’s leanings. The point is there are always going to be both good and bad drivers in any given state–it all depends upon what you train your eye to see.
Not far from where I live, there is a group of pay-fishing lakes that lay on the outside of a curvy section of the county road in which I often travel. Between two of these lakes, beside one of the deepest parts of the biggest bend, is a tall, but dead and decaying tree. Quite often, congregating at the top of this inky dark rangy tree, is a venue of buzzards.
This past week, my college-age daughter, Madelyn, and I were driving along this twisty road on our way to a local walking path when I slowed the car to a halt in order to allow a buzzard to cross the road in front of me. It ambled as if it were on Sunday stroll and heading back to the ground entry floor to its treetop apartment. Its beady eyes seemed to look at our car, then peck at something in the road, and finally made its way to the grassy curb, so we could continue.
Madelyn made some sort of comment about how cute the bird was, and she followed this comment up with a not-so-serious question as to whether or not we could take the bird home. Being my ever-sarcastic self, I merely rolled my eyes at her query and continued driving. However, this was not the end of it.
Madelyn continued commenting on the cuteness of the bird. Eventually I reminded her that this so-called cute bird was a buzzard. She persisted to cling to her admiration.
“Don’t you see them nearly every day you drive by this tree?” I dryly asked.
“Yes, but I’ve never seen one up close. That makes it different.”
Then, a song from her childhood began to echo throughout our vehicle, and Maddie switched from talking about the buzzard to singing a line from the song before regaling me with an anecdote about this once childhood TV star turned singer.
It would be days later as I watched my daughter “arting,” as she calls it, that I recalled her observations of the buzzard. After two years of taking nothing but science courses–enough to already earn her a chemistry minor–Madelyn is now an art major–previously, her chosen minor. Thus, her mind can switch back and forth with a fair amount of ease from the analytic to the creative. It’s kinda like being ambidextrous–only mentally.
I share this because now that she is back living at home in order to pursue art at the local university, Marshall, she has opened my eyes to a number of my “vision flaws.” For example, buzzards, Maddie would point out serve a very real and valuable purpose for the world–ridding the natural world of dead and decaying animals flesh. “It’s all how you look at it, Mom.” While this is quite true, I began to see a lesson forming regarding the buzzard, but not in the same way Maddie was seeing it.
One of the very things I admire about buzzards is how high they soar and fly. In fact, watching them circle and glide on the air over the hills surrounding my home is like observing an aeronautical ballet. With all the height of their heavenly soarings, however, they still choose to look down in order to pick, peck, and probe dead flesh, yet with each flight, they nearly touch the face of God.
Meanwhile, the compact hummingbird possesses a likewise graceful flight pattern. However, rather than setting its sights high, this aerodynamic creature flies closer to ground seeking blossoming sources of nectar (sweetness)–all the while pollinating flowering plants. Hummingbirds’ vision focuses on the Divinely created colorful beauty of this world. Buzzards, on the other hand, ascend celestially, but ultimately, dive to dine on the deceased. Both birds are useful to the balance of the world, and yet, I think there is a lesson for those of us living in the new world of COVID-19.
We can choose to be like the buzzards, soaring close to the heavens, but choosing to continuously look down to feed upon fallen prey; or, we can choose to humbly fly closer to earth, not always visible to others, but nonetheless peacefully pollinating the earth with granules of positivity and hope. In fact, the hummingbird’s present moment flight promotes a continuation of flowering plants for not only unknown passersby to enjoy, but also it creates additional food sources for future hummingbirds, bees, and butterflies.
Dear Reader, let us not be like the buzzard, soaring high on the wings of sanctimony, looking down in order to feed upon the geography of misfortune of others who may have experienced and/or unintentionally spread this illness. Rather, may we fly humbly like the hummingbird, spreading hope like a hummingbird spreads the pollen of the spring flowers surrounding us. May our time at home be used as an opportunity to clear our vision, plant seeds of love through simple acts such as regularly checking in with family and friends via phone call, facetime, or texts. Furthermore, may we acknowledge the sacrifice and labor of health-care providers and those employees of businesses who must continue to work in the public realm in order to provide us with provisions of food, supplies, and basic medicine needs.
In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “The best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment.” May we take care of this present moment as if we were touching the very face of the heavens from our own earth-bound homes.