It is 2:15 on a SAturday afternoon. The birds are serenading me. Literally. I’m sure they are songs and not just chirps. There are at least 4 distinct types of bird songs that I can detect. A friend of mine has gotten me into birding. I now have 2 apps on my phone. Today is the first day that I identified several birds by their songs, and a few by their calls. There are only about 8 different birds that frequent my backyard, so I’m pretty sure I got it correct. I heard a house finch, an Abert Towhee, and a Mourning Dove. This is the kind of thing I can do now because…I have time. And of course, there’s the whole not-walking-much thing.
It might sound lame, or boring to you. But it’s actually kind of cool. I am starting to go places sometimes where they have lots of birds. A few weeks ago I went to the Riparian. For those of you who don’t know, a Riparian is an area that’s set aside in suburban areas to preserve plants and animals near waterways, with lovely walking paths and bridges. Needless to say, there are lots of birders, photographers, and nature lovers that frequent them. I figured it would be a great place to do my birding, so I set out with my walker and rolled myself to a pier. I probably spotted at least 10 different bird species that were not in my backyard. And let’s face it, this gives us antsy people something to do. However, on my way back to the car, I was zooming on my wheels, got caught on the uneven pavement, and slammed backwards. Yes, I was wounded, but it was mostly my ego, as several people came to my rescue. A nice lady wheeled me back to my car. So embarrassing. It was the first time I’d taken myself out of my house in over a month.
The point is, I’m learning how to do things that don’t press me for time. So, instead of simply sitting and staring into space, letting my monkey mind drive me crazy, I have put my attention on the birds. I’ve always fed them in my yard anyway. I’ve attempted to get photos, but they are camouflaged in the rocks and I can’t zoom in close enough, so this is what I’m doing now. I even have a playdate with a friend in a few weeks to go out in nature, attempt photographs, and catalog more birds. Besides, I’m helping science because the information goes directly to Cornell University and helps with their research. I certainly hope nobody is adding birds that don’t exist anywhere.
I realize that I could have gone birding sooner. And I’ve always dabbled in photography – even took a few classes, and had a dark room with my husband before the kids were born – when cameras used film (yes, I realize there’s a joke in here somewhere). But aside from developing new hobbies, there’s something even more profound happening. I’m starting to care less about other stuff. I know that lots of retired people suddenly get over-involved in politics and current events, as if they are suddenly going to change the world because they watch more news (I wouldn’t mind, if they actually got involved and became activists, but most of them are spectators, as if politics is a sport, which I guess it is becoming in this country). But I’ve been an activist all my life, and I’m suddenly not caring as much about…almost anything. This had me concerned for a while. Am I giving up on life, simply because I’ve only got a good 20 or 30 years left? That seems a bit selfish of me. But I’m trying it on.
The first time I went to a peace rally, or as they were called, war protest, I was 13 years old. I held up signs and marched with thousands of others in Washington Square Park in Greenwich Village. I love that I don’t have to even explain what state that’s in. I grew up in a city that everyone on the planet knows about. We’re a pretty big deal. Big enough to have 2 towers toppled, big enough to house the U.N., big enough so that travelers from all over the world come just to see a Broadway show. Coming from New York not only makes you street smart, it imbues you with a certain panache, a certain intellectual and cultural smugness. True, we have very little knowledge about what it’s like to live on a farm, or what coal miners think, or what it’s like to live in a small town, but we are the center of the universe. Everything begins with us and disseminates from us. New Yorkers have an innate sense that we are the leaders of the world. Since truth is a matter of perspective, this may or may not be true, and even though I’ve been gone since 1987, I can’t shake the sense that this remains an accurate statement.
So, in 1971, at age 13, when several people I knew had already been killed in Viet Nam, and many of my friends were staring at draft papers, I went to the protest with my friends yelling in the streets to end this stupid, senseless, seemingly endless war. It was an incredible feeling of empowerment. Sometimes I think that the only reason bad things happen is so that someone else can feel good about helping it not to happen.
Since then, I’ve signed 1000s of petitions, written hundreds of letters to lawmakers and politicians, gone to many more protests and rallies, stood on street corners with signs, worked for organizations in favor of helping the climate, canvassed for candidates, volunteered in various capacities for the needy, refugees, and other causes, taken a Girl Scout troop to babysit at a woman’s shelter, fought against Monsanto, fought for educational reforms, donated money to various causes, passed the word to others about all sorts of indignities, And then some.
I’m not sure if I’ve been fighting all my life, or being of service? I’m not sure if it matters, except I know that intention matters. Well, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, the job just has to get done, and if someone doesn’t want to behave properly or do the assigned work, like a student in a classroom, for instance, you can’t make them care, but you can make sure that they do what needs to be done. In any case, the one thing I’ve gotten from my Jewish culture is a concept called Tikkun Olam, which means any activity that improves the world, bringing it closer to the harmonious state for which it was created. It is also an obligation to engage in social action and service. I didn’t even know that until I was much older, but I’ve always had something inside me that compelled me to abide by this idea. Maybe it was something innate passed down through my genes.
So, that’s where I’m at in my retirement phase now. Do I do things because they matter to the greater good? Or just for my good? Have I done enough in all my years of service? Did my job as an educator give me enough God points so I can take a break from activism also? Because ironically, I now have plenty of time to volunteer. I don’t want to become hedonistic, or narcissistic, but I might just be taking a break from feeling like I have to be saving the world at all times. I mean, what if I didn’t participate for a while and just watched the birds? Will the guilt weigh me down? Or will I still be helping, by contributing to bird research, just by sitting still and looking around?