Birds and Giving the Best of Ourselves

This essay starts with a picture of birds, but it winds up talking about how they can teach us to give the best of ourselves. But first, the birds. I have always enjoyed photography, and some of my favorite blogs are about photos people have taken of birds. So yesterday when I saw these guys in the palm tree in our yard, I smiled at the opportunity to participate. A growing family of blue gold macaws live in our neighborhood, and they love to eat the palm nuts from the royal palm trees.

It’s a funny thing to write a blog. There are so many blocks to writing. In fact, it starts with a block! As soon as I open a new page, it asks me for a title, but how am I supposed to think of a title before I’ve even started to write the post? It is hard for me to just leave it blank and move on to the body, and so today I started with the photograph, even if the picture really does most of the talking for itself.

We have a pretty outrageous assortment of birds here in our winter home in Miami. Peacocks and parrots in our yard. Exotics to be sure, but they have been here since I was a child. There used to be an amusement park down here called the Parrot Jungle. It was destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and a lot of the birds got loose.

Turns out the blue gold macaws do very well here on their own, and so now they are breeding. I few years ago there were only two of them that I would see very occasionally. Yesterday I saw nine in one group, all squawking at each other from the tippy tops of the palms. I do not know how long ago it was that the peacocks were introduced, but by now they are everywhere. Peacocks, it appears, are like the wild pigs of the bird world.

So the title of the blog post is one obstacle that I have to overcome to start writing, but that’s not such a hard one. Far harder is Mr. Hoodafukaru. Mr. Hoodafukaru sits on my shoulder and questions my writing; he questions my “right” to write at all.

But it’s not just writing. It’s photography, art, singing, playing guitar, painting, dancing, pretty much anything. I don’t think I am the only one. How many people believe that they should refrain from singing? How many people are shy to dance? I remember growing up believing that I could not sing. And I remember pretty clearly the day in art class in like second grade where my efforts were not appreciated and so I was determined to be not good at art either. And so for many years, I did not do either of these things.

I imagine that many other people have had similar experiences. Singing is a particularly painful example for many people. How many people out there are shy to sing? If someone asked you to sing a song right now, on the spot, could you sing a song? Or maybe we would utter a couple refrains from Free Fallin’ or some other choice sing along, and be all to glad when the ordeal was over.

I remember standing by quietly during the singing of Happy Birthday. I was so convinced I could not sing, that I literally did not sing. That all changed a few years ago when I started to gather with a spiritual group centered around singing in Portuguese. What? Yes, you heard me. We get together with others who follow a Brazilian Eclectic Spiritual practice, and we sing together in a circle, in Portuguese. This was the start of my many adventures in Brazil, and now I enjoy it so much.

It’s been almost 13 years, in fact, February 2nd with be my 13th anniversary of the first time I joined this group. On that day, our group tends to sing hymns that are dedicated to the Orixá Yemanja, because that is her feast day in Bahia where we have a chocolate farm. When I first started sitting with this group, I did not sing at all, nor had I ever spoken a word of Portuguese. But Brazilians are an incorrigible. Sit with them long enough, like 15 minutes, and before you know it, you are part of the fun.

And so I felt myself croaking out a few syllables. I was given a little hymn book that had English translations on one side, and so I could sing along phonetically with the Portuguese and kind of read the English translations. This was the start of an amazing journey, and there are so many things I could write about it, and maybe I will as this practice of writing develops.

But there is one lesson that I received about singing that comes from a little mockingbird. He was perched upon a telephone wire in the evening light after a rain storm had passed, and from his perch on the telephone wire, he sang. And sang. And sang. He sang all of his songs, and then repeated some of them.

In our group, we always sing in unison. That means everyone sings the same thing at the same time. We don’t have rounds and harmonies and different parts. It’s really very simply and folksy, but there are nonetheless some amazingly talented musicians and singers. Normally, there is a leader of the singing, referred to as puxadora, which is the person who “pulls” the hymns. The puxudora starts the singing, and is the one everyone else is supposed to follow. In our style, the puxadora invariably uses a maraca to set the rhythm with a very simple three or four count, depending on the time signature of the hymn. All ears are on the puxadora and the maraca.

It can be a little intimidating to step into this role. After all, everyone will be striving to sing exactly with the puxadora. There are slight variances in the way some hymns are presented, and so it’s important to listen to the puxadora instead of just trying to sing the same hymn at the same time in your own style.

One day a friend who was shy to pull some hymns was expressing her reservations. She felt like she was not good enough to start the singing, to open her voice into the silence and have everyone listen and then join her. And the mockingbird came to me.

The mockingbird does not have this reservation. It does not worry if remembers perfectly the songs it picks up along its journey. It’s not like most birds that have a single song to perfect! It sings all the songs it hears. The mockingbird sings with joy, on cue, to the best of it’s ability, without self judgment. I shared this with my friend. Sing like the mockingbird sings I suggested, and she did, and it went fine.

All we can do is give the best of ourselves in any given moment. We must prepare, we must practice, we must study, but when the time comes to present ourselves, the “I’m not good enough” refrain is of no service to anyone. We simply must give the best we have.

This is not the same as having false or unjustified feelings of grandeur. It’s not to think that we are better than we are, it’s just to accept that we are what we are. Out of love and respect for the others on our team in life, we study hard and practice and stay in shape. But when the time comes to present ourselves, we give the best we can in that moment, and that’s all we have to give.

And so that’s what this photo was at the start. I would love to have a telephoto lens on a tripod to take a better one next time. I would love to have a better vantage point. But what I did have was my iPhone and some pretty birds in a palm tree. I hope they bring joy to whomever sees them.

Thanks for reading. Let me know if you are a bird photographer and if you like the macaws.