I’ve become a bird-watcher this summer. I’ve had plenty of time for it. After working at the same job for 25 years, I was laid off.
I’ve worked steadily since I was 16 years old, so it felt pretty good not to work for a while. I was on vacation and finally had time to read, time to sleep, and time to do whatever I wanted to. But, as the weeks wore on with no job prospects in sight, a shadow of doubt began lingering around me. I feared I was losing my identity and purpose in life. I often struggled to remember what day it was.
But I remember the day when, just before sunset, the birds all returned from their winter sojourn. I felt energized as I listened to their spirited proclamation that spring had arrived. The world was being reborn. Maybe it was time I had a new beginning, too.
I might have missed this inspirational concert had I been working. When you’re on the rat-race treadmill, you tend not to take the time to really see and hear the world around you. As I listened to the variety of bird songs blending together, I wondered what bird was singing which part. I decided that this summer, I would take the time to learn something about birds. I didn’t realize that by learning about birds, I would also be learning about myself.
For example, robins don’t walk; they run across my yard with no hesitation. They hold their heads up with such an air of confidence; you’d think they owned the world.
I don’t have much confidence that I can start over at my age. What marketable skills do I have after working so long at one job? Who’s going to want to hire someone lacking the energy of youth?
I was thrilled when three blue jays visited my backyard one bright morning. They are not popular with everybody. Some people consider them to be loud and crude. But I admire them for their protective nature and close family ties.
My co-workers had become like family members after working with them for so long. Now, I feel those connections fading away. When I check my e-mail, it usually declares “no messages from contacts.” When I’m on Facebook, I mostly “troll” through my friends’ status updates, worried that my own would be boring.
Before my health insurance ran out, I stood in my doctor’s waiting room and gazed out the window. Casco Bay seemed to stretch out forever. I was feeling like my problems were just as wide and deep. I hadn’t noticed that someone had sidled up next to me until I heard her soft “hello.”
I turned to see a white-haired woman with the regal bearing of someone who has lived a contented life. She asked me how I was and I shared my sorry circumstances with her.
“I’m 50,” I explained, wearily. “That’s too old to start all over again.”
“I changed paths when I turned 70,” she said. Then, she was gone, called by the doctor.
Recently, I was walking along the beach when I heard a triumphant whistling. I looked up to see four ospreys floating across the sky. It was a tremendous sight, and I felt lucky to see it. Ospreys were nearly wiped out by chemical pollution at one time.
They’ve rebounded. I will, too. Meanwhile, I’ll keep watching the birds.
K. Francis Sullivan lives in Portland.