On the beach, between storms, walking with a steady wind at my back. Soothing myself with all the white noise and rhythm. Not too many people out in the middle of the week, with the Pacific "storm door" wide open. Thoughts fewer and fewer. Feeling more spacious...aaaaahhhh. Yes. All I hear are various tones of Shhh.
Now comes the thing I call love, for lack of a better description, where the waves roll through me, where there are no boundaries, no self-concerns, no ideas about the state of the world, no prayers for anything different. I can only talk about it after the fact, and words are lousy...pictures, too...but...
It is not a gentle day; the wind is blowing hard enough that pieces of dried sea-life skitter past and ahead of me, racing each other. Sand is forming wave patterns wherever it blows. Clouds thin, but don't disperse, while more gather offshore. I'm warm from the motion and consider taking off my jacket--not quite. I come to a place where water drains from a large pipe, and I must hop across on rocks to avoid getting my feet wet. The beach is more deserted here, vacation houses shuttered up on short cliffs, mixed with struggling motels for the next couple of miles until the trees and grass of a state park are allowed again. The sand ahead is clean and almost flat, not much driftwood, so a small object stands out in distant darkness.
I drift toward the spot on the high-tide mark, curious, more so when I recognize the thing as a sitting bird. It is alive, unmoving as I approach. I walk carefully until I'm a few feet away. Though conscious, the bird is injured, dying, maybe. It rests quietly in exhaustion, facing into the wind. It opens an eye and looks directly at me, and then closes it, unconcerned, unafraid, unable.
My heart contracts, opens again. I squat down and consider the emerging details--black feathers of the back and wing, one slightly extended, sand collecting around the white breast, a wake pattern forming behind the short, battered tail. My eyes find the place where the bird hit the sand and skidded forward a couple of feet. Only a little while left...I feel sadness. A memory arises, a wise counselor a decade ago urging me to "step over the wounded birds", speaking of people in my life I believed needed saving or teaching or loving and were just me, wanting saving and teaching and loving. There is nothing I can do except the practical, and in many cases, just nothing--like this.
A thought comes. "He is waiting to die." Knowing comes--there is no waiting, here. The bird is doing what natural grace does, ebbing out, struggle over. It looks like dignity, but isn't. There is no need to dignify this passage. A huge, open love is here. I walk away with a human wish for a quick and peaceful end to any pain the bird may feel, because I suffer with the thought.
Only a few days pass, and I find myself on the same beach, this time with my brother. The wind is gone. My brother is struggling inwardly, and the walk is therapeutic, I think. Talk is minimal and inconsequential. Not too long, and I catch myself looking, looking, until I find what some part of me seeks. I don't know why, but I break away from my brother and go to the feathered body, washed all the way down here...yes, here it is, the end of the story. I don't know what this feeling is, when I gaze open-eyed at the white breast, torn open and washed clean in the sea. The bird's heart is gone, food for a scavenger. Soon it will be scattered feathers, bones becoming sand. It's a horrific sight, post-breath, but beautiful because I can't deny it, any of this.
Over my shoulder, my brother says, "Yeah, Maria, it's a dead bird," and walks away, mildly disgusted. I feel his puzzlement. Just another process-in-action, yes; no, when it is also mine, my bones I'm walking on and the feathers I will never fly with in this lifetime. Even more, it's a feeling that I can't name, that somehow contains, creates and abolishes life and death.
Love is such an inadequate sound to wrap it in.