Ways of Seeing: Sometimes going off-script is best

The goldfinch hung on my window screen, its bold yellow back with black stripe shone in the light as it held on casually, confidently, pecking every few seconds on something I could not see. Bugs? Seeds blown from the trees to lodge in the grating of the screen? No matter.

I hear birds every day though I’m not good at telling one call from another. In the early morning hours, lovely songs push through my dreams, season my daily routines, and linger well past dark. The goldfinch hanging on my window screen felt special because I might have missed it if I hadn’t happened to look up.

I’m frequently absorbed with something on my computer, or reading a book, or doing a chore that focuses my attention indoors. During these times, I become preoccupied with getting to a stopping point: finish the essay, the email, the chapter. It is rare that I allow myself to be interrupted. It is even rarer that I get up to try and find where a sound is coming from.

That day, some energy, some power — call it God — wanted me to see beauty up close, and the only way to do that was to send a goldfinch to my window to hang out until I paid it some attention.

Its presence reminded me that a few days before as I was driving into town, a cardinal had flown past my vehicle. It was the first time I’d seen a cardinal since moving to Bristol. Mr. Cardinal used to wake me up every morning or shake me out of my computer fog when I lived in Charlotte. I looked forward to that piercing, perfectly pitched, insistent song and the brilliant red that always made me want to thank God for color, for birds, for nature, for life.

Seeing the goldfinch at my window I could not help but feel wonderful. Its presence reminded me that life is beautiful and life just is. That bird would find something to eat, something to do and, in the process, give beauty and value to the day just by being itself. I doubt that it questions its purpose in life, or wonders whether its feathers are bright enough or its song beautiful enough (I don’t speak bird, so I can’t be sure of this).

For several days, the vision of that goldfinch stayed with me. Every time I wondered if something I did or said was good enough, I remembered its tiny body suspended by its tiny claws. It was not trying to do anything and yet it brought me pleasure just by being its unscripted self.

Ruth Farmer is a published essayist and poet. She directs the Goddard Graduate Institute in Plainfield, and is sole owner of Farmer Writing and Editing (ruthfarmer.com).

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