Birdsong and Starlight

My weekly newspaper column is dedicated to Live and Learn’s David Kanigan. One of his blogs was the inspiration behind this. If you do not already follow him, you are missing something big. I will reblog what inspired me so you can find him.

Are we so busy that we sometimes forget to notice the things that are offered to us every day? Do we ignore the change of seasons? Do we sleepwalk through our lives? So many times when you ask how someone is doing, their response is that they are “busy”. Busy can mean active, hard-working, diligent, industrious; but busy can also mean that you are unavailable and harried and lead a hectic and demanding life. It is good to be busy—many of us were brought up with the saying that “idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” But have we taken the business of busy-ness too far?

In a book by Barbara Brown Taylor called “Leaving Church, A Memoir of Faith” she tells the story of her search to “find an authentic way of being Christian—even when it meant giving up (the) pulpit”. I imagine it was not easy for this Episcopalian preacher, author and professor to give up her pulpit—in 2014 she was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world (Wikipedia). But in her book she gives us some insight as to why. In just a few paragraphs she tells how she became separated from the world at large in order to take care of the things she felt were her responsibility. In a word, she was “busy”.

Here is what she says:

“Sixty-hour weeks were normal, hovering closer to eighty during the holidays. Since my job involved visiting parishioners in hospitals and nursing homes on top of a heavy administrative load, the to-do list was never done. More often, I simply abandoned it when I felt my mind begin to coast like a car out of gas. Walking outside of whatever building I had been in, I was often surprised by how warm the night was, or how cold.

I was so immersed in indoor human dramas that I regularly lost track of the seasons. When a fresh breeze lifted the hairs on my neck, I had to stop and think, does that wind signal the end of spring or the beginning of autumn? What month is this? What year, for that matter? In the ICU, nurses wrote details like these on blackboards to help their dazed patients hang on to reality. Most days I could name the president of the United States, but my daily contact with creation had shrunk to the distance between my front door and the driveway. The rest of my life took place inside: inside the car, inside the church, inside my own head.

On the nights when Ed and I walked, I sometimes talked with my eyes fixed on the moving pavement for more than a mile before an owl’s cry or a chorus of cicadas brought me, literally, to my senses. Only then did I smell the honeysuckle that had been there all along or notice the ghostly blossoms on the magnolia trees that deepened the shadows on more than one front lawn. The effect was immediate, like a shot of adrenaline straight to the heart. All these earthly goods were medicine for what ailed me, evidence that the same God who had breathed the world into being was still breathing. There was so much life springing up all around me that the runoff alone was enough to revive me. When it did, I could not imagine why I had stayed away so long. Why did I seal myself off from all this freshness? On what grounds did I fast from the daily bread of birdsong and starlight?”

The “daily bread of birdsong and starlight” was missing in her life. She had been too busy to notice. Too busy to notice the weather, the change in seasons, and the world around her outside of the “indoor human dramas” and the “inside” of a car, building, or her own mind. Once she smelled the honeysuckle, heard the cry of an owl, and the chorus of cicadas, she came back to her senses. Senses that had been dulled by the urgent, by the constant call of caring for the world, by just coasting along and fulfilling her duties. Her gas tank was empty but she was still “busy”.

The seemingly never ending activity of the pink rabbit with the long life battery is not one I seek to emulate—yet we are encouraged in this life to be “busy”, to be in control, and to set our dreams aside for another time, another place. Memories are not made of “busy”. They, as Barbra Streisand so eloquently sang (and I am changing ever so slightly to make sense in this sentence) light the corners of our mind. I want to make more memories—vivid ones that are coloured by awareness and not shadowed by busy-ness.


Published in: on September 23, 2016 at 11:28 am  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Oh, how I agree with this. The world is just spinning too fast, and I often want to jump off the merry-go-round! It seems like we always have to be doing more, going out more, and this is especially true for children. I see so many parents dragging their kids from one activity to another all the time, and I wonder if those kids ever get to just sit outside and play in the dirt, or have quiet cuddle time with their moms and dads. I cut my hours back at work years ago so that I could be home for my kids after school, and technically I should increase my hours again because my kids are grown. However, I say the heck with that. I’m going to leave things the way they are. Why would I want to add more stress back into my life? My goal is to eliminate stressful things from my life and enjoy the things I love. Life is just too short!

  2. LouAnn, thank you for the shout out. Appreciate it very much and your continued encouragement as I limp towards my own journey of enlightenment.

    So many of her words left their mark: “Once she smelled the honeysuckle, heard the cry of an owl, and the chorus of cicadas, she came back to her senses.”

    This was a beautiful post and timely post LouAnn. Thank you

  3. Well said….great post.

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