Tag Archives: Owls

Fragile

The Jehovah’s Witnesses came by again this week…,

…right on schedule…,

…as I was sitting down to lunch.

-sigh-

It was the same old fellow who’s been coming by for years now, only this time he had his wife with him, which I can only remember happening once before.

We exchanged pleasantries and spoke for a few moments about work and the pleasant weather we’d been having.  Then he handed me their little monthly booklet, and began to share a sampling of his particular brand of wisdom.

All while my grilled cheese slowly cooled on its plate.

My mind wandered a bit, I must admit.

Usually I do a better job of paying attention, because however else I feel about his little visits, I know that he means well and I am always interested in better understanding what other people believe.  Otherwise, I’d have shooed him off long ago.

But I’d been looking forward to that sandwich all morning, and they’re never as good reheated as they are right off the skillet, and…,

…then he said something that DID catch my attention.

He said that we were “not built to die.”

In my mind I quickly rewound the last couple minutes and then skimmed it forward again, this time listening for content.  He’d been speaking of the subject matter of this month’s Watchtower, having to do with how people should react when a loved-one dies.  “People are always surprised by death,” he said.  “And the reason for that, is that when God made us, we were immortal.  Death always takes us by surprise because we were not built to die, and so we lack the programming to deal with it properly.”

When I caught back up to the present moment my visitor and his wife were already making their way back down my front walk.  We’d exchanged parting pleasantries, and as usual, I’d assured him that I would consider his words carefully.

And I have at that.

“Not built to die,” he said.

I couldn’t get those words out of my head as I sat, munching on my cold sandwich.

He’s a nice enough guy, but he could not possibly be more wrong.

Living is a thing that we do in absolute defiance of the odds.

And dying?

Death is not the enemy, it is hardwired into our biology.

I wonder if my door-knocking friend has ever heard of the Hayflick limit.

It turns out that the cells in our bodies can only divide themselves a set number of times.  With each division, the length of a cell’s DNA is slightly shortened, and eventually, just shy of about 60-divisions, our cells can no longer reproduce and they begin to wear out and break down.

It’s a bit like that “best if used before…,” tag that we see stamped on a loaf of bread or a carton of milk.  Barring accident or disease we’re fine up until that predetermined point, and then from there it is only a matter of time.

And this isn’t something that just happened to us one day.

It’s not an accident, and it’s not some ridiculous punishment for eating fruit off of the wrong tree in a magical garden somewhere.

If your belief is that we were designed, than that designer built us to die.  If you don’t believe in a designer, it’s still true, because the way life evolved on this planet is that it can only exist through the action of death.

Life is precious precisely because it is temporary.

****

I had another unexpected visitor this week.

Just a couple days after the Jehovah’s Witnesses came by, I arrived home from work to find a screech owl sitting in the middle of my front yard.

The sun was long set, and a bird of this kind should have been on the wing, hunting for insects and the like.  Instead, it sat almost motionless in the grass, hard to see in the darkness but still an easy target for neighborhood cats.

Assuming that it must be injured or sickly, I tipped an empty laundry basket over it, to keep it in place, and then, wearing thick gardening gloves, reached under the basket to collect the little creature and place him in a cardboard box, for ready delivery to another of my neighbors who does wild bird rescue and rehabilitation.

I’ve never held a screech owl in my hands.

They seem profoundly fragile things, and lifting it out from under the basket felt a bit like holding a feathered soap-bubble.  I was moving quickly, so as to cause as little stress as possible, so I only caught a brief glimpse of those big yellow eyes.  It made an alert sound with its beak, a bit like flicking your fingernail against a hard wood surface: tap-tap-tap.  And then it was safe in a box and, I hope, off to a speedy recovery from whatever ails it.

Holding that small creature in my hands, I could feel the fragility that is life.

For an owl, a mouse, a blade of grass, or the mightiest tree.

The soul may move on to some other place.

It may even return to live again.

But immortality for this life or any other is a false hope.

We cling to life because it is temporary, because it is fragile.

Why else do we cling to each other?

May Mushroom

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Filed under Death, Nature, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Spiritual Journey

Owlfoolery (awake after midnight)

It was the sound of a mournful puppy that drew me outside.

I’d meant to be in bed an hour earlier, but I just kept finding excuses to stay up a little later.  I wasn’t actually accomplishing anything, of course.  Just puttering around the house, unwilling to give up on a day that was almost over anyway.

11:58pm.

Ugh!

I’d finally decided that enough was enough, and was locking up, when I heard the noise.

Sad puppy, somewhere down the street it sounded like, making a noise somewhere between a whine and a bark.

I turned the deadbolt on my front door.  Not my problem.

The sound came again, and I turned the bolt the other way.

Stepping out, the night air was cool and moist.

The last few weeks, here in North Texas, have seen more rain and thunder than anything else.  It had rained, on and off, for most of the day, but for the moment the clouds seemed to be minding their own business, scudding their way across a grey sky and a few blurry looking stars.

I stepped out into the middle of the yard, away from the porch-light, and as I did, the strange yelping sound came again, and again – close!  And a strange blunt shape hurdled through the air from the side of my house and landed in the low branches just to my left.

Before I could fully register what had happened, the first shape was followed by a second, which flew past its fellow, and into the branches just a few feet in front of me.  The branches, just an arms length out of my reach, dipped low with an unseen weight, and that strange ‘puppy’ cry sounded again.

I turned back toward the first shape in time to see it launch itself toward and then past the second shape, its course curving through the branches, and coming to rest a little higher and on my right.  Its small, compact shape only dimly visible in the reflected glow of my porch light.  An owl.

Owls!

The second owl launched himself high up into the branches, lost completely to my view, until I heard it land, again to my left, very near to where his friend had first touched down, and the circle was repeated.

Once…,

…twice more, before they vanished off into the night, and I was left there, standing alone in my front yard, grinning like an idiot and truly awake again for the first time in months.

Flying Owl

I listen to a lot of National Public Radio, and a couple weeks ago I tuned into a program discussing studies that had been conducted, showing that emotions are not just things of the mind, but that they possess a physical component.

The claim ran something like this: If you are sad, maybe you slouch and shuffle, maybe you frown, maybe you gesture and speak in a certain manner.  These are the bodies physical expressions of your emotional state.  The unexpected twist, is that according to multiple studies, if you slouch and shuffle, if you frown and gesture and speak in a certain manner, despite the fact that you are actually happy, you will BECOME sad.  The connection between mind and body runs both ways, and the mind will respond to the actions of the body with an alteration in mood.

In the days that have passed since I listened to that program (and for the life of me, I can’t remember which show it was), I have read a number of blog posts, from various writers, which all seem to touch, in one way or another, upon the subject of Orthopraxy versus Orthodoxy.

That is, Right Action versus Right Belief.

Certain religions of a monotheistic persuasion, hold that correct belief (i.e. the one true way) is the foundation upon which personal salvation rests.  From this perspective if you believe in the proper things in the proper way, your actions will follow suit and a glorious afterlife awaits.

On the other hand, if you are found to have committed incorrect actions (sins), the likely cause was your own failure to believe properly, or fully enough, to override your sinful nature.

Polytheists, on the other hand, reject the concept of ‘personal salvation’ and tend to be more Orthopraxic in nature.  When you believe in more than one god, and when the wants and desires of those gods vary, sometimes to the point of being contradictory, believing in anything like ‘One True Way’ is problematic at best.

What’s more, as pointed out in this excellent post over at the Shrine of Antinous, Polytheism is, “Not About Belief. Belief may flow from experience, and may impact practice (in fact, it should!); but, belief does not delimit experience nor determine practice.”

Experience and practice should be the root of belief.

Without action, belief is of little value.

We are what we do, and if we stop doing anything, what are we then?

***

When we act like we are sad, we become sad.

And when, to please others, or to mollify certain hurts among our loved ones, we set aside the things that we do and say, the things that inform our beliefs and make us who and what we are…,

…we sleep, and our beliefs become mere dreams, unfulfilled.

I have allowed myself to fall into this restless slumber.

The connection I once felt with the natural world, and with the otherworld beyond, has faded through lack of use.

I was worried, for a time, that it had vanished completely.

Until a few nights ago, when a pair of screech owls decided to play a game of leapfrog in the trees above me, turning circles around me in the night.  They were only there for a few seconds, and then they were gone, my laughter following them into the darkness.  But they left me awake to something I had almost forgotten.

It is time to start doing things again.

It is time to start being again.

It’s after midnight, and I’m wide awake!

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