Crows and Other Gifts
On Making Connections in a Hurried World
This is a meditation on gifts and the web of interaction that keeps us all connected in this stressed and hurried world…
We all give to the world, in some way or another. We give time. Thought. Emotional support. Labor. Laughter. Tears. Money. Encouragement.
Some of us give too little. Others of us just may give too much.
I used to ask my clients and students to assess whether a project or relationship overall fed, drained, or ate their energy. Sure, we all get tired sometimes, or things feel like a challenge or a slog. But overall? We need to feel fed. If a project or relationship overall drains or eats our energy? It is neither healthy nor sustainable, and can lead to burnout or resentment.
But what is that exchange? What does being fed feel like? Does it mean a constant tallying of output vs input? Does it mean score keeping of who puts in the most effort and who takes out the most?
Well… sometimes that might be necessary. But not everything in life is transactional. As a matter of fact: the less transactional life becomes, the more liberating life can feel.
Sometimes, we do things because doing them gives us pleasure.
Years ago, I worked full time in a San Francisco soup kitchen, for which I received room and board and a tiny stipend. One day a guest asked me why I was there.
“I enjoy it,” I replied.
They huffed. “You aren’t supposed to say that! You are supposed to say you want to help poor people!”
I laughed. “If I didn’t enjoy being here, I wouldn’t do it.”
Perhaps that’s just my pagan attitude, but it is also the truth. I am not a believer in “selfless service.” I always believe that we help one another because we get something from it. Most often what we get? Is the knowledge that someone is slightly better off because we were able to help. Or we’re building toward a world we want to live in.
This is not transactional. I didn’t expect any reward for working in the soup kitchen other than the satisfaction that every day, people got fed, had a shower, got a change of clothing, or got hooked up with medical services or housing.
Eventually, that wasn’t enough for me, so I quit working there full time and switched to a once-a-week volunteer basis. That fed my soul for twenty years.
Here’s another story:
I talk to crows. I greet them on my walks. I enjoy watching their conversations, and know what time of day their meetings are, and when they gather to roost.
During cold months, I leave out piles of seeds. I click my tongue, and shake the bag as I walk out to the low retaining wall that borders our front garden, filled with soil from when the basement was dug out more than one hundred years ago. A crow or two always quickly arrive, and set up the call telling the others there is food.
One day, while working in my office nook, my partner called upstairs, sounding alarmed. “How much food did you set out for the crows?”
“Just a couple piles,” I called down.
“They’re stopping traffic!”
I looked out the dormer window, and, sure enough, crows were everywhere and cars were slowing, trying to figure out what the heck was going on.
I laughed. Oops.
A week or so later, I came home from a dictation walk, but wasn’t quite done with the chapter, so paced toward the back yard, where two Douglas firs tower in the back corner. I stood in the winter sun for awhile, talking out loud, narrating the story in my head. I heard a couple of crows in one of the firs, but paid them no mind.
From the corner of my eye, I saw something drop from high up in the tree. I figured it was crow poop, because, crow poop happens.
Once I finished my work, I headed into a wild bit of garden to re-set the solar lights the squirrels are always knocking over. Or maybe it’s the possums or raccoons… At any rate, while placing the lights upright again, I saw it.
Something shone in the cupped petals of a succulent.
It was a white, shimmering orb. A glass ball, pearl like, winking from soft petals of pale green.
I looked up into the tree and said, “Thank you!”
The shimmering white ball now sits on my bedroom altar, as a reminder that one day, a crow said “thanks.”
There are people out there feeding others, caring for children and elders, blocking the machinery of injustice, listening to friends in crisis, building tent-safe heaters, making art…
And they do all these things because they’re enacting and shaping the very world they want to live in. They do all these things because they are right to do.
I feed crows—and squirrels, and song birds— to help them get through winter. I set out extra water, often with ice, during the hot summer months when other water sources have dried up. I do this because I appreciate the wildlife that call my city neighborhood home. I enjoy their antics, and appreciate their beauty.
I do it because it is a form of connection with the web of life, and because I want a world filled with crows, chickadees, and squirrels. These animals also remind me that there is life beyond work and screens.
I don’t do it for any other gift than that.
But that white pearl of an orb, dropped from a tree, practically at my feet?
That is a gift I treasure all the same.
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