I’ve been doing this exercise lately of trying to figure out what’s most important to me. Core values, life purposes, that sort of thing. Usually I discern such things in a rather ad-hoc way—but sensically, of course. I wait for something to come to me in a dream or outdoors or in a book, and to captivate my senses in an undeniable way.
So far, the only thing I’ve gotten really clear about is that birds are important to me. I’m not sure if you can consider “birds” a core value, but you can, doubtlessly, delight in them.
My first encounter with birds during this discernment process took place a few weeks ago when I was walking along the teeming “Septimazo,” a main avenue in downtown Bogotá that is permanently closed to traffic for about twenty blocks. People who look like they sleep outside make meticulous, larger-than-life chalk portraits of Jesus and the Virgin Mary on the street, and folkloric dance groups and rock bands perform in close aural quarters every half-block.
When I got the Gold Museum, I saw a man with his entire body spray-painted silver who was impersonating the singer Carlos Vives, down to the most minute gesture of the Colombian icon. He happened to be lip-syncing “Volví a Nacer,”the song my husband and I chose for our first dance at our wedding. So I stopped and listened, smiling and nodding my head. After a few minutes, two sparrows fluttered down to the foot of the silver box the silver man stood on, and without missing a beat, he stooped down and extended his hands toward the birds like a gesture of welcome for honored guests, then smiled at me as if he knew that I, among the several people standing there, would understand. Maybe I did. I was impressed that he recognized the birds as his co-collaborators in street art—recognized that the conspiration of the effervescent moment and all the living beings around him were as much a part of making art as his individual efforts.
But now that I think about the impersonator and the birds and the wedding song, I remember that I also wrote a song about marriage a long time ago, at a time when I only dreamed about being tender and open enough to enter into such a challenging commitment. I am struck by the fact that in it I sing, “Some people make birds out of their wedding dress.” Maybe now it is my time to do just that. To make this commitment, and all of my commitments to a life of deep purpose and values, into birds dancing freely.
A second encounter happened one day when I went for a morning run and passed by this man who seems to live in a dilapidated armchair nestled into an uncultivated strip of earth along the sidewalk. Though he sporadically speaks streams of words I can’t understand and has the kind of dreadlocks that happen by letting hair do its natural thing without intervention, his strangeness does not seem to keep him lonely. He has friends: people who give him food, who shout jokes at him from their work trucks, and two stubby-legged dogs who circle around him like they know where their home is.
But this time I realized this neighborhood fixture has a circle of friends even broader than I had thought: as I passed, I saw him looking up at the trees that overhang the towering wall around the rich people’s condominium complex, and reach his hand up as if grasping at something. I realized that he was smiling at the birds hopping about in the branches up there. These members of the community did not go unacknowledged by him. And, indeed, he delighted in them.
Sometimes, finding value or purpose is not so much about looking for deeper meaning in things, but just noticing them at all. And noticing birds, I have realized, is deeply important to me.