Of elephants and lions and little birds

When great souls die,

the air around us becomes

light, rare, sterile.

We breathe, briefly.

Our eyes, briefly,

see with

a hurtful clarity.

Our memory, suddenly sharpened,

examines,

gnaws on kind words

unsaid,

promised walks

never taken.

Maya Angelou, “When Great Trees Fall” excerpt

For days now, I’ve hobbled around, tears falling on every inch of our yard and house, crying with great fury and despair or just weeping over some huge emotion working its way through my already too tired mind and body. How do I wrap my head around each day? each hour? I cry at songs, at lines of poetry, at words in the pages of a book. Yes, I stand in today’s presence and yes, the “lions hunker down/in tall grasses/and even elephants/lumber after safety.” The emotions are immense; anger, fear, and grief pummel gratitude and compassion. Love feels lost in Her very own ocean. Being injured and adrenal-compromised, I’ve turned to Nature and poetry.

I don’t know much about lions and elephants other than what I’ve learned in school and reading, but I’ve been watching all the little birds who reside around my house. In these moments, I have much gratitude for having the privilege of even having a safe place, a home, much less the time for creation or quiet observation. I know I could fill it in other practical ventures. I could be planning next school year and ALL the possibilities, or thinking about it (which I do way too much). I probably should do that more than writing poem, painting on fences, and writing blog posts, but not over watching all the little birds. I am mesmerized.

The backdrop changes every moment (how could you not appreciate that?) and each morning (before dawn), I sprawl out on looking up at the sky in the middle of my backyard, and hear the little bird’s good mornings (what sweetness). Everything is slowly waking up. Nothing rushed until Sunrise comes in Her usual hurried way, and the little birds make preparations. Within 10 minutes, the Little Birds are flying formations, zipping down the street, setting up watch posts (very specific locations), and calling to each other in staccato–all well-placed and efficient.

In come the crows (because crows do what they need to do) and a small airborne war ensues while the Muscovy ducks, ibis, woodpeckers, and doves chime in (all sort of little birds). Every few days (I started counting two days ago), a bird of prey swoops in and around and all the Little Birds and the Big Birds shut up. There’s a stillness that is intense. What will happen next?

Yeah, that’s the point. None of us really know, but based on the natural cycles, not statistics (although statistics can be a pretty good indicator of how things are going, depending). Wait, and see. And here we are in whatever week and condition we are in, but do we have clarity?

My last poem (last night) is about grief (I’m not even sure what tense to use anymore). If I’ve learned anything in 2020, it’s how to identify an emotion in myself. The tricky part for me is how to separate that emotion from reality AND whose emotion is it…I’ve spent a lot of time working this as part of mindfulness and practice. I’ve learned how my mind flitters and sings, like a little bird, and then flies into action with all I’ve got. It’s intense. It was a normal way of going about my life for a long time. It’s familiar, and because of this familiarity–I know it–I can make myself move toward the bigger picture.

I’m not a participant in the War of the Birds any more than Maya Angelou was a zoo-keeper or hunter on a safari. For the most part, I’m a worker of words and a processor of emotions. A teacher. Whether I go back to school virtually (a reason for practicing with the resurrection of my blogs and other backburner type of Erika projects–there are many) or face-to-face or much more demanding (a mixture of the two), I still am a worker of words and a safe holder of the dreams and fears of my students (and their parents). I practice. Poetry helps me process and brings clarity.

Essential to any change in public education is our understanding of what is essential to learning at all. Familiarity. This takes time and dedication and shared commitment. Familiarity is knowing, remembering, and identifying (at that moment or later with reflection) what emotion you are feeling and what triggered it. Learning comes when students (and teachers and parents) feel safe. Safety should be the norm, not feeling safe, but the conversation starts here for me. What makes us safe? What can we do right now to move that way?

My grief poem was like a reminder on how to get there. In schools (and at home), we don’t talk enough about grief, about loss, about what follows. And it is true I have students who don’t experience a crippling grief, but loss is still familiar, and if it’s not–maybe that’s the challenge to what happens next.

In the classroom (virtually or otherwise), I invite discussion. Still, I am vigilant. I’ll sing the morning song, but I won’t let you rob our nest, even if it is a part of your role. A crow’s going to do what a crow’s going to do, but when even the lions and the elephants mute themselves…

What will happen next?

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