Island Blog – A Drinking Bird

I want to write about awe.  There’s not enough awe going around these days.  That natural uplift of a heart on seeing something gaspish.  Gaspish is an unmeasured thing.  Not all of us gasp at the same thing, and some of us have learned not to gasp at all, but this could be something to do with the lack of teachers in the art of awe.  Everyone needs one of those.  Could be mother, could be father, grandmother, grandfather, friend, even foe.  Awesome, on the other hand, is a well and truly overused word, and words like that, when navigating the world through the mouths of a culture, often lose their strength, for a while at least, through such overuse.  ‘Cool’ was one, once, but the days of cool being cool are long gone unless from the lips of grannies who have only just caught up with the trend.  In our day ‘cool’ related to things in the fridge, a chilly morning or a nice G and T of a summer’s evening.

Awe comes unbidden.  It isn’t contrived or staged.  It just bombs the bejabers out of you when you are looking the other way, or, as in the case of almost everyone between the ages of ten and 40, at your mobile phone.  It stuns for a moment.  Something you never expected has just happened.  It could be the distant hills turning blue in jacklight, or a heron flying backwards or someone at your door with flowers.  The thing about awe is that it’s the result of something you never saw coming.  Like waking up to sunshine or waking up at all.  It could be knowing that someone is thinking of you just when you thought the world had finally self-destructed and you were the only one left in it with no wellies or torch and your laptop out of juice.  It could be an act of random kindness on a train, in a street or from behind a Costa counter when you are one penny short of a macchiato. It could be anything.  The key is to feel it, and there might lie the rub, whatever that means. 

I know that the wise writers and teachers of this world urge us to practice.  To recognise awe and to honour it with a gasp, that outing of breath the colour of respect.  We listen, we read about it, we forget.  Our lives are sooooooo busy, after all, what with the domestic off sick and the bins needing a controlled roll down the hill because tomorrow is Monday and our day for the green one.  Time is of the essence.  Yes, it is, but Time moves on whether we watch it or not.  Time will never be lost, but we can be if we don’t remember awe and gasping.  I watched a fulmar cant in a luff of Atlantic wind.  I watched it soar, steady itself, float and soar some more.  I felt tears.  How can this beautiful creature do that, as if doing that was as simple as me buttering toast?  How does it see anything from up there, let alone everything?  Where are its young, its mate, and how does it pick fish from the sea when fish are moving and tiny and all I can see is a fishless flat ocean?  I follow a bumble bee as it tries to relocate its burrow.  Do bumble bees forget where home is?  It looks that way to me.  There is a lot of buzzing intent, and I can almost hear the sigh of relief when it finally scuttles down a finger sized hole. 

I see my grown children, my handsome sons, my beautiful daughter, smile into my inbuilt camera.  They are mine and yet they are not mine at all, but I am in awe of who they are and what they have done.  Perhaps only I know parts of their stories, the tough bits, and felt their pain soothed under mother hands.  Perhaps.  As I walk, I hear a thrush.  I’ve heard her before, and she is bothered with my walking.  I am too near her nest.  She flies out beyond and calls to me.  Not there, she says, you silly twit.  My nest is not there, not where you are looking.  She knows how to do this go away thing……but how? I remember a new born peering up at me through half blind eyes because I was the one, the protector, the woman whose trashed-up womb nourished and held him close whilst he silently grew into life. That awe never leaves a mother, no matter what happens as he fights his brave way through childhood, past awe-less teachers and cruel playground taunts and on into trainers big enough for me to lie down in. Even the taste of coffee can gasp me, and not because it’s hot.  And that gasp, that awe is connected tightly to the absolute certainty that there are millions of people, women, men, children, who are lucky if they get the cool dregs, let alone a new hot cup all to themselves.

Awe.  Gasp.  Notice.  Remember this.  Remember it when you are knee deep in grubby sheets daily, discarded crusts of bread and other detritus that hit the floor and stayed there. Remember this when you can’t find your glasses in order to read an email, or the phone as it rings and rings and rings until it stops somewhere in the depths of a sofa cushion, bits of old bolognaise stuck to it forevermore.  Remember this when life feels like a great big stone around your ankles, too heavy to move, too limiting to ignore.  Remember and be thankful.  For I have watched a fulmar cant in a luff of Atlantic wind, way out there where rocks are really faraway islands, where the sea stretches right up to the skyline and where old stories hover like gulls overhead, just begging to be pulled down and told again in a new voice. Remember, when the BT engineer doesn’t come nor the builder, nor the friend who said she would.  Because if we allow apathy to become our friend, caught up in all that is overwhelming, real and right here right now, we may forget too much.

Like the watching of a drinking bird, balanced on a rock, dipping for a drop and tipping for a swallow, one, two, three times against a wide sky, vulnerable, on edge, and then lifting into space, like it can live in two worlds at the same time.

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