There is something new in our house this Christmas--the patter of little feet …..and the flutter of wings….both from the same creature. If it’s an angel, he’s a feisty one--in a black and white coat.
The end of this particular year—2008-- and the turning to 2009 are special for me a little more than usual—it's both hard and good at the same time.
You see, If I can get past the rush of the season, Christmas and the New Year is a good time for letting go of the old and embracing the new—in all sorts of ways--releasing old habits and shifting to new kinds of thinking—or letting go of old traditions that no longer serve, and creating new celebrations that work for who I am now.
None of this is easy or natural for me. In particular, the "letting go" part. The new creature with the feet and the wings is a part of the change this year, and he’s become a symbol for my own journey.
Some of the Banditas already know about the new to our family, but I think he deserves a formal introduction here in the lair.
His name is Thor, short for Thoreadore, and he’s a four-year-old, African Pied Crow. He's 18 inches tall, with a wingspan of nearly three and a half feet.
Here’s a picture of Thor on the night he came home to us. We took all the back seats out of the van to fit his six-foot-tall, wrought-iron cage in the back. He rode in a large cat crate on Steve’s lap all the way from Atlanta.
On his first morning in our home, I got up about 7 a.m. and was on my way to the bathroom. I walked by Thor’s cage where it was set up in the dining room and he came over to me and leaned his head down and said in a soft, purry whisper, “H…h…..hhhhh….hiiiiiiiiiiii.”
“Hi Thor,” I said, and went back to bed.
Apparently, “Hi Thor,” was not adequate response to his sexy bedroom voice greeting, because as we were lying there trying to sleep a little longer, we heard a series of loud meows coming from two cats fighting (neither of ours—it was all Thor) and then a string of obscenities that would make a sailor blush. The eff word was included without restraint. Steve and I were holding our sides and trying hard to not laugh out loud at the bird cursing in the other room because he’d been dissed.
Later that morning, Steve was making coffee, and making an effort to include Thor by engaging him in conversation from across the counter.
“This is the coffee grinder, Thor. Don’t be scared, it’s just noisy.” (Insert sound of beans grinding).
“This is the paper filter, Thor.” Thor liked that part.
“Then we put the coffee in the filter,” Steve said, in a voice you might use when speaking to an interested toddler. “Ooooooone……twooooo,” Steve continued, counting scoops, all the way to, “Seven. Seven scoops, Thor. That’s how much it takes to make a pot of coffee.”
Thor tipped his head sideways, took a long look at Steve holding the coffee scoop, then stuck his beak into the air and said, in a snobbish tone, “I already know.”
Here's cool video from you tube of a Pied Crow named Cuervo. Thor doesn't trust us quite this much yet, but one day we hope he'll get there.
Thor and I have a few things in common. We both curse a lot more than we should. But there are other things too.
Thor had come to his original family, and his most beloved, favorite person—we’ll call her Dee—when he was a fledgling chick in 2004. If you’re not familiar with large birds—and Pied crows in particular—you may not know that they live for 20 or more years, and that they are deeply social creatures. They love their flock. They NEED their flock. And when they lose their flock—their family-- they mourn. He’d bonded with Dee and her husband, and he loved them with an intensity that might surprise people who don’t know birds are capable of this. This is Thor when he was still with his former family.
Because of life changes, Dee and her husband couldn’t give Thor the social interaction he needed in order to be healthy, so they began searching for a new home for him. Several people were in the running to adopt Thor, and to our good fortune, he came to us.
Thor had already survived adoption as a chick, a move from Los Angeles to New Orleans when he was almost a year old, then after only one month in that home, Katrina hit. Yes, Thor lived through Hurricane Katrina. Everything in Thor's home was lost except for the people and animals. So Thor and his family landed, refugees, in Atlanta.
Then, three weeks ago we appeared and took Thor from the only family he’d ever known.
Three years ago--when Thor was just a young bird-- a series of events happened in my life—one of those Jerry Springer-esque, stranger-than-fiction things...
You know the ones--you hear about them or read about them, but contest judges and maybe even editors would say, “No way. I don’t believe that would ever happen to a real person.” Well, it happened to me about the first of November. The end result was that I lost my entire family except for my husband. I didn’t lose them because of death, but it was very nearly as final, and in some ways, more painful because of how it happened. I was devastated. Inconsolable. It was the winter that would not end—a time in life that forced me to the essence of who I was—to look closely and decide that I was—or was not—worth the space I take up on the planet--even without the approval of others. I took the leap of standing up for myself and I hit the ground hard.
Almost three years to the day from when I lost my family, Thor lost his. Neither of us really had a choice in the matter. Sometimes we don’t get the chance to leap. Sometimes we get thrown.
It’s a good lesson in life I suppose. Some things we can control, others we can’t. If I let it, it could keep me holding on to the safety of the known, too afraid to leap into the void.
Thor talked a lot the first few days he was here, but he didn’t eat much. Grief does that.
Dee told us he likes bubble baths, so a few nights after his arrival, we tried for his first bath. But we put in too many bubbles and he couldn’t see the bottom of the tub. He freaked out and went under water. Then he was wrapped in a towel for his nail trim. He was wet and cold, shaking and afraid, biting at the nail clippers. Then when he went back into his “house”, he fell off of his perch and landed in the bottom of his birdcage, still wet, unbalanced, unable to fly. Thor is a proud bird. It was hard to see him so helpless and afraid, nothing like his former glory.
In an ironic twist, I feel a little of that angst that right now—though just a tiny bit. I’ve made a decision to leave my present job —one that’s good for me financially, but very bad for me creatively and personally—for another job—less money, but more flexibility. It’s hard to say whether it’ll be better for me creatively—for me and my writing—only time will tell. It’s a leap of faith, and I’m afraid. What if it doesn’t work? In a difficult economy, I’m walking away from security to (I hope) gain sanity.
Sometimes you let go and leap, and no net appears. Sometimes you hit the bottom of the cage. For me, that’s scary.
We helped Thor onto his perch that night, and he dried off and spent the rest of the evening fluffing his feathers until he was gorgeous again. He was sad still, we could tell, but after a couple of hours he got back most of his sass.
Three years ago I learned that sometimes family has nothing to do with blood. When you’re in the ditch, you find out who your friends are, and I learned that having nothing can set you absolutely free—free to find who and what you are, and what celebrations and love mean to you. We actually enjoy the holidays more now than we did before, but that didn’t happen overnight. It took a lot of letting go—scary, painful growth and change.
We made new Holiday traditions for ourselves —with people who love and support us.
Of course, I had someone to love me through my loss three years ago. My husband was there for me and supported me as I went through that. I hope we can be there for Thor in that way too.
Letting go and leaping is a little easier if there’s someone there with you, saying, “I believe you can fly.”
We’ve begun to let Thor out of his cage to fly around the house now. He flaps and glides and soars through the rooms, and to be such a huge bird, he is astonishingly agile and quick. He turns on a dime. When he’s ready to go back in his cage he takes a turn around the kitchen, glides over to the cage, tucks his wings in, sails through the door, air brakes, and lands softly on a perch.
But it’s when he takes off that he’s most impressive. He leaps, spreads his wings, and is carried on air as though the air is there just for him---to take him on a glorious ride. He flies the way I breathe—without even thinking--effortlessly.
I watch him and wonder if I’ll ever be able to do that—to trust the universe and leap in that way. Will this new job be a good choice? Will I be adept? Will this change at the turn of the year—the letting go of the old and the embracing of the new—be a positive one? Or will I hit the bottom of the cage and have to dry myself off again—maybe have help getting back up and onto the perch?
I’m writing a character right now who has hit bottom and is having to claw her way back to who she is. Which I guess proves that for a writer, no experience is ever wasted.
Thor is adapting. We hope he’ll come to love us as he did Dee and her husband. But that will take time. He’s become a symbol for me—of the things that are happening around me and how I’d like to be able to adjust and adapt—and trust and maybe, every now and then, fly.
I’m not much into resolutions, but this time of year is a good one for changes. New beginnings.
What about you?
Have you ever chosen to let go of the old or embraced the new in your life, to good result? Has it ever been forced upon you, as it was upon Thor and me?
Have you ever taken a leap and had the net not appear? How did you get yourself back up onto the perch?
Do you have a favorite character from a book--one who haunts your memory because he’s been taken so low you thought he’d never fly again? One who’s lost everything and still found her way to a happily ever after?
In your own life, how do you know when it’s time for a change, and how do you work up the courage to make it? Do you listen to your heart, your gut, the people you love, the voice of the Divine?
Do you use the turn of the year to make changes, let go of the old, take up the new?
Is there someone in your life who fluffs your feathers and says, “ Let go. Leap. I believe you can fly!”