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Friday, September 24, 2010

Harvey and Sheila

This is Sheila.

She is one of the more than two dozen or so Snowy White Egrets who are part of my neighborhood.

Well, Sheila is what I call her. Her family may call her something else. God knows her name by heart.

She appears at my dock in the early morning. In the mid-afternoon, she appears in my side yard, which you see above.

Sometimes, she appears with her mate, whom I call 'Harvey'.

It was Rosh Hashanah. I found myself singing 'Hava nagila' around the house. 'Harvey and Sheila' was probably inspired by that.

Or, maybe I'm thinking of Alan Sherman's modern parody of that old folk song.

She is very graceful - especially so, given the awkward shape of her body. Her legs are incredibly long, as is her beak. And yet, she moves and walks and flies with great, effortless beauty.

I love it when she stretches her neck and throws back her shoulders, looking around my front yard as if it were the grounds of her royal palace.

Sometimes, it simply takes my breath away.

My curiosity about egrets and herons has lead me to learn that they are monogamous. They mate for life. Indeed, the male apparently gathers the material for the nest and the female builds it. There's something about that which appears to my sense of egalitarianism.

Harvey and Sheila. Partners in life. Together forever. Without the blessing of the institutional church.

According to Greek mythology, egrets and herons were thought to be messengers of the gods. My curiosity about that leads me to question why she comes to me every day - twice a day - to the same spots in my yard.

I've been sitting with that question, that wonderment, for a few days now. I don't have an answer, and I suppose I won't for a while, but I view it as a good 'sign' that, in this time of discernment, I should have a new 'spiritual friend' and companion in this journey.

Actually, I've been thinking about the term 'Be Tipul'. It's a Hebrew word for 'in treatment', which is also the name of an award-winning Israeli television drama created by Hagai Levi.

The program has been adapted for audiences in the United States, Serbia and the Netherlands. In the US, it's an HBO series called, interestingly enough, "In Treatment" - one of my favorites.

Being in a season of discernment is much like being 'in treatment'. The first is a matter for the soul. The second is a matter for the mind. Both processes lead to the heart as they overlap and sometimes intertwine with each other.

At the core of both expressions of these two sacred pieces of work are the relationships that give meaning and depth - and so, challenges - to our lives.

Sometimes, understanding the psychology of a relational dynamic helps us understand our relationship with God. At other times, it's our relationship with God - often as understood in our relationship with Jesus - that helps us to reflect on and understand the psychological dynamics of our relationship in a new way.

I remember hearing Carter Heyward once say that our most intimate relationships are a reflection of our relationship with God - and our relationship with God is often reflected in our intimate relationships with others.

I'm discovering new depths to the profound wisdom and truth of that idea every day.

As I watch Sheila pick over the crusts of bread I've left for her among the pebbles in the yard, I realize that I am doing pretty much the same thing - sorting through what to take, what is going to feed and nourish me, and what to leave behind.

Through it all, Sheila is graceful. She gently moves pebbles around with her beak, her long neck stretching in a lovely, long, slow arch. She is not so preoccupied with her task that she isn't aware of what's going on around her. She is clearly alert for any sign of predators or danger, but she remains calm, centered, focused on the task before her.

She is also generous, often taking a crust or two of bread back to her nest to share with her mate or her young.

Sometimes, Harvey joins her. To my amazement, they never squabble over the bread they find, unlike the gulls who squawk and fuss and fight. The gulls always make me giggle, when they don't disgust me. Their cries sounding very much like the gulls in the film, Finding Nemo: "Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!" (As the character Nigel says to them,"Oh, would you just shut up! You're rats with wings!").

Harvey and Sheila share their find with each other, sometime gently feeding each other from their bills. It's a beautiful sight - one that sometimes, in moments when I'm feeling particularly vulnerable or worn out, reduces me to tears.

I recently remembered that 'hava nagila' means "Let us rejoice!" It's often sung at Jewish weddings and Bar/Bat Mitzvahs. The last line,'Hava nagila v'nismeḼa', means 'let us rejoice and be happy!"

Which, like discernment and being in treatment, are two different things which, when they intertwine, can lead to a deeper experience of both.

When I see Harvey and Sheila out there in my front yard, I find myself singing 'hava nagila' sometime later in the day.

It reminds me of my favorite scene from "Finding Nemo".
Dory says to Marlin, who is trying to find his son, "Hey there, Mr. Grumpy Gills. When life gets you down do you wanna know what you've gotta do?"

Marlin, disheartened about the failure of their task thus far says, "No, I don't wanna know."

Dory, starts to sing, "Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming. What do we do? We swim, swim."
So, I just keep doing what I know how to do: Listen. Learn. Sort. Take and eat what's good. Leave behind the rest. Receive with gratitude the kindness of strangers. Share generously what I have with others. Be mindful of signs of danger, but stay focused on the task at hand. Try to be graceful. Return to your nest when your work is done.

And, sing - especially in those moments when my soul is troubled, my mind is confused and my heart is broken.

It's the best treatment I know for this season of discernment.

I think the ancient Greeks may have gotten it right. Harvey and Sheila may be Snowy White Egrets - only two of the more than two dozen who live here - but they are bringing me powerful messages from God.

It is the call of the Spirit of Jesus, our Rabbi and Resurrected Christ. It is the song that was sung by the cosmos at our birth. It is the song we take even to the grave:

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Let us rejoice and be happy!


Hutch said...

Oh, Elizabeth - my wish for you is that you always have reason to rejoice and be happy.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, Hutch. I am deeply blessed.

Pauli Murray said, "Hope is a song in a weary throat."


Kirkepiscatoid said...

What an interesting take on discernment--there is a lot in this. What pops up for me is, "Yeah, so how does one share food without a Harvey handy?"

JCF said...

"They switched to GOP: that's the way things go!" [This was following the verse that said "And on Election Day, worked for JFK."]

I grew up w/ "Harvey and Sheila": love Alan Sherman!

"Soon they had twin baby girls, both with dimples, both with curls. One named Bea! One named Kay!

...this could only happen, in the U-S-A!!!"

Thanks for that memory, Elizabeth.

Anonymous said...

I pray that you find your answer. God is with you.


Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Kirke - there is a heavenly somebody, right around the corner for you. Just open your eyes.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

JCF - Alan Sherman was pure genius, right? I hadn't thought of him in YEARS - until I thought of these two egrets.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Maria (Anonymous) - I know. I feel God's presence every day. I am so very, deeply blessed.

Anonymous said...

I have never posted here before, but just want to say how much I appreciated reading this post. I'll never look at egrets the same - not that I see them very often in the middle of the city, but it's good to know they're out there and providing inspiration and beauty for others. I hope your new friends continue to visit you regularly.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thank you, anonymous. I think this is probably the nicest post by an anonymous commenter I've ever posted here.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

BTW, I hope you come again, and I hope that egrets visit you often, bringing you a message of discernment and "Be Tipul"

IT said...

I love snowies. They have huge yellow feet, which contrast with their black legs and always make me think of a flapper with their white fring, black stockings and yellow galloshes. They shuffle their feet in the water to turn up the inverts they eat. Love 'em, such beautiful birds. herons and egrets are hunters yet seem much more elegant than your average raptor.

A coupla months ago, I ha the opportunity to walk a 4 mile stretch of beach half of which is inaccessible to the average person, and there was a stretch where 20 snowies were standing in the surge, perfectly spaced one every 20 feet. Very organized, very orderly. Killing machines in a way, but not wasteful.

And those yellow feet!

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

IT - Hmm . . . yellow feet must be a style for California Egret Fashionistas who shop Redondo Drive, LA. On LSD, basic NYC black seems to be all the rage.

AutumnJoy said...

It's the deer that daily visit my home - their majesty and grace astound me, and I always feel like I have been visited by royalty, the King of Kings. Just last night the pups awakened me so that I would not miss a large buck bedded in my garden. The does and their bespeckled babes always remind me of our need to care for another who may look different on the surface but we are all God's children So much to learn from nature - thanks for sharing your egrets and your journey.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Lovely, Autumn Joy. We have so much to learn from God's creation and creatures.

IT said...

If they are snowies, Elizabeth, they have yellow feet.

But there are numerous other white egrets and herons that do not. If yours are conservatively dressed in basic black, they may be one of the others. Depending on size, they may be a Great White Egret, which is a considerably larger bird.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Thanks, IT. I think you're helping me to learn more about my neighbors. I think these must be Great White Egrets. There are also lots of Blue Heron which are HUGE. Also Green Heron which are much smaller than the White and the Blue.

IT said...

YEs, sounds like they are the Great Whites. Snowies are much smaller. You're lucky to see the greens, they are notoriously shy! The blues are amazing, almost prehistoric. They enjoy hunting not only in water, but in meadows where they grab gophers!

Now that you have some time, I'm glad to help you learn more about your avian neighbors. Birds are rewarding to watch, and as you note, we can gain much personal meaning as we observe the rhythm of their lives change with the seasons.

Here in San Diego, as fall comes in soon the migrating shorebirds will return. Many of them summer in the far north, raising their chicks on the tundra, dressed in bright colors. They'll fly back down to our beaches here dressed in drab plumage for the winter. And many ducks will come winter here as well--pintails, gadwells, canvasbacks, widgeons.

You'll see those sorts of changes too, on your coast. Get a good birdbook and a pair of binocs and prepare to be amazed. And keep your eye out for travelers, passing through from the north to the south, as the season changes. That kind of travel is truly amazing, and catching sight of rare migrants can be a wonderful gift.

Kirkepiscatoid said...

Ah, but Elizabeth, my dilemma is not "shopping for a Harvey," it's the challenge that my present state in life constantly reveals.

Those of us in the more solitary form of life state are not given a hall pass to being excused from expressing their love to others, nor be excused from being loved in return.

What I've discovered is that what others sometimes view as "easier" or "opting out" in a sense, I view as an incredibly wide challenge, and sometimes simply picking a starting point in which to understand love in this way is a little on the daunting side some days!

Not to mention the Grand Poobah Heavenly Somebody works with bread crumbs, not 2x4's, in this realm. My experience with the Grand Poobah Heavenly Somebody is that the 2x4 is reserved for repentance, and the bread crumbs tend to be used for exploration!