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  • Writer's pictureMarisa Guerin

My Friend, The Little Bird

Marisa Guerin, PhD – June 8, 2021

The other day, I was done with my work for the afternoon and I was tired of being in the house. So, I stepped outside and sat on the bench near the front door, quite close to the small fountain/birdbath that we and our neighbors installed several years ago. To my surprise, my proximity did not discourage a certain small brown and white bird (a sparrow maybe? ) from swooping in and perching on the edge of the water basin. I sat very still, and I thought to myself, “Will it stay? Can I keep from scaring it away?”

The birdie also sat pretty still, once in a while cocking its head this way and that. It seemed to be studying me. After a few long minutes, it seemed to settle in, and dipped its beak down for a sip. It lifted its head up in order to swallow the water, and I watched the little throat vibrating with tiny movements.

Then it went back to studying me, tilting its head occasionally. I kept sitting still. Out of the corners of my eyes, I noticed other birds coming and going, stopping in the nearby branches of the small witch hazel tree and chirping at me, or on the top of the opposite bench – but none braved a stop at the actual fountain. I supposed that they might be annoyed with me; in the recent heat we’ve been having, the bird bath has been in constant demand, with birds of all sorts taking vigorous, splashy dips. It’s fun to watch, but usually I do that from inside the door to avoid disturbing them, pausing for just a short while to observe the display.

This time, I thought, I won’t move on. I will stay still for as long as I have the bird’s attention. Eventually, it occurred to me that maybe five minutes had passed, quite a long time for sitting stock-still. I started counting seconds, and kept it up until another seven minutes went by. The bird stayed, having a sip of water about every three or four minutes, but otherwise just sitting calmly and watching me.

Then I thought, "Wait a minute, Marisa, here you are, the bird is giving you the gift of undivided attention." (Or I imagined so. I have actually no idea what was on the bird’s little mind.) But it seemed to me that the least I could do was to let go of counting seconds or wondering how much time was passing, and just be in the moment with my new companion, the bird. So I stopped counting.

My back started to hurt. I figured out how to move veeeerrrrryyyyy slowly, and shift my position without any sudden movements.

At one point, I could hear my next-door neighbor behind me, coming out of the house to walk the dog. Without turning my head and in a low voice, I explained to him what I was doing. Happily, my voice had no effect on the bird. Generously respecting this unusual tête-a-tête, my neighbor took the dog out by the back way, leaving me and the birdie undisturbed. He did say, in parting, “If we find you there tomorrow morning, still staring at the bird, we’re taking it to the bird hospital!” In that case, I would think he’d want to have my head examined, as well, but he was kind enough not to say so.

We sat, me and the bird, contemplating each other. I wondered if the bird was fascinated with how long it could observe a human sitting still, without the human jumping up and running off with its busy life. The whole while, the fountain burbled, the nearby birds made noisy complaints at my intrusion into their pool party, and various neighbors walked by and waved. Time passed.

Finally, the little bird turned around, hopped down into the garden, and disappeared. I moved my relieved back and looked around, no longer a contemplative statue, delighted with my long visit with the bird. It must have been something like forty minutes – that seems to me like a really long time for one bird to sit, only about four feet away from me, and calm as can be. It sure was a long time for this human.

I appreciate the little birdie showing me how to sit still and pay attention. I’m far too attached to what’s showing up on my phone, or my mental to-do list, or the newspaper, or whatever. For that afternoon interlude, I gave myself to just being with a tiny living being, hearing the water flowing, in the shade, feeling alive. I even got less stiff and more relaxed in my stillness, the more I kept my eyes on the bird, and not my mind on my back. How hard it is to quiet my mind! It was spiritual direction via birdie.

Many thanks, pajarito. Maybe my laid-back bird friend will be back some day. I will be on the lookout!

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Regina Bannan

I laughed out loud, Marisa.

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