Flying Lessons

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Fledgling Bluejay (c) 2015

It’s fledgling season.

Fledge, as a transitive verb, means: “(1)  To rear until ready for flight or independent activity; (2)  To furnish with feathers.”

Tiny birds burst out of bushes at fender level, lifting by milliseconds out of oncoming cars’ paths.  Parental sentries warily scan their nests’ peripheries, screeching and swooping if a squirrel bounds too close to their young ones.

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Baby Quail (c) 2015

Where hatchlings cluster in the delicate days before fully testing their wings one can already see a hierarchy in place, more assertive newborns pecking at their recalcitrant siblings and even sweeping them aside as they venture toward the margins of the zone where their parents perch to guard them.

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Perching Guard (c) 2015

I am, technically speaking,  a grownup.  I assuredly am my children’s only surviving parent, and some of them occupy the chronological ground between childhood and adulthood.  Yet I am taking most of the lessons.  That fledgling bluejay perched indefinitely on the wooden fence ledge, glancing beseechingly back over his shoulder as if to ask whether he really is expected to let go and explore alone beyond the garden that is his home base?  Really?  Is this a good idea?  That’s me.

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While I have found comfort in returning to my original work, my children have ventured without fear into new places, figuratively and literally–from making new friendships to mapping out intricate proofs and gathering data across the globe to mathematically model the spread of infectious diseases.  How proud their father would be.

Perhaps they have been furnished with that other thing with feathers– the one “[t[hat perches in the soul,” that “sings the tune without the words,/And never stops at all.”

Sign of the Times


I couldn’t even write the above title without a peppy REM soundtrack.

The sign that struck me tells its viewers to do something that scares them–or, judging by its use of capitalization, THEM and not necessarily anyone else–every day.

Jim couldn’t have followed its directive because he was never afraid.

The best I can do, many times each day, is perform tasks which used to terrify me.

Having been raised by a worry wart (you know who you are), before my husband’s diagnosis I feared abundant things: flying, highway driving, balancing a checkbook,  dentists, technology, brown recluse spiders.   I even maintained an excessive dose of apprehension about public speaking, notwithstanding my line of work.

There was a time immediately after Jim died when irrational fears came flooding back, and then some.  Even the thought of going to the grocery store and seeing the foods I wouldn’t be buying any more, or looking inside the room where he died in our own home struck terror into my heart.   Then, for many months, I experienced an intense fear that something equally disastrous would strike me, too, and that my children would lose both their parents when they still needed me.

Now I calmly experience many of these former frights (especially the highway driving) as a rote part of every day.  I haven’t lately encountered brown recluse spiders (that I’ve noticed), but I dealt with bats in the kitchen by semi-respectable cowering and without excessive screaming.

I do still fear hearing Very Bad News.  But about the only thing I still fear in that zero-at-the-bone sort of way is losing other people I love.

I suppose I can still follow the sign by taking the risk inherent in letting other people into my life.  Attachment is a scary thing, because its flip side is loss, but closing the door isn’t the answer.  To quote a Jose Saramago novel once again“I don’t doubt that a man can live perfectly well on his own, but I’m convinced that he begins to die as soon as he closes the door of his house behind him.”

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