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In praise of morning birds

Every morning, when the windows of my house are raised, I remember how much of a gift it is to be alive together.

In praise of morning birds
Photo by Mark Olsen on Unsplash
gray and white bird on tree branch during daytime

On the day I heard my grandmother laugh so deep and so precious it made my stomach quake, I am sitting on the edge of my wooden kitchen table, staring out the window as the sun beats against the seals. The morning is hot, a bit of the southern stuffiness that happens in Georgia during the summer months, and the wind blows pages out of order as they sit on the table. Just a few moments ago, I am pouring my coffee into my dinner mug, setting it on the table, raising the windows a bit so that the warm breeze can enter my house. Ten minutes later, the red mug that I got from the bookstore some months ago is empty, the contents of the cup have warmed my insides. I close my ends. I take three long, deep breaths in. I take three long, deep breaths out.

And I hear the sound of morning birds.


I have made it a practice of late to raise the windows in the morning time to be greeted by their song. The chirping, swift, sharp and high-pitched echoes from one bird to another. For a few seconds, I pause, gazing upward from the green grass to the trees that sway in the distance. For a few seconds, I pause long enough to notice that no one bird interrupts the others. Each bird, one by one, makes a noise and then another and then another. My grandmother told me that when birds sing, if you listen close enough, you can tell that their melodies are never drawn out. It doesn’t take much to be heard, I guess. In one simple sound, overheard through the glass window, their presence is felt in my world. There is no pressure. There is no stage. There is no timeline. There is only a small animal doing what it has been created to do, reminding me that in life, I too take up space and whatever space I crave in this world is enough to make another pause and pay attention.

This reminds me, strangely enough, of the times as children where we would be in the church on Sunday mornings. For us, children of the black rural South, Sunday mornings were much like Friday nights around time. See, on Friday, the days the town would shut down because of high school football games in the fall, hardly anything moved. As the football time made their way to the altar between the lines, the miracle was the fact that under these lights even the most public of failure demanded intentional presence. Mothers, fathers, cousins and friends would make their way to the bleachers to experience what could only be called “baptism”—experience being enveloped by the simple yet powerful gaze of the body’s movement under pressure. That moment, much like Sundays at church, feels divine and sacred, I guess. Or maybe that’s too much. I do know that from a child, both Fridays and Sundays made such an impression that I too ran up and down the field; I too ran up and down the church.

I don’t think I know the age of birds or even if, from their perspective, their songs are sung again and again, but I do know that every morning, when the windows of my house are raised, I remember how much of a gift it is be alive together.

woman in red white and blue plaid shirt smoking cigarettePhoto by NATHAN MULLET on Unsplash

I called my grandmother a few days ago and asked her if she remembered the time she, sitting on the porch a few weeks ago, told me about the solace she has found by being wrapped in the silence. Every morning, like me or me like her, she makes her coffee, says her prayers, read her Bible and then sits on the porch. “Do you like think or you just sit,” I asked her, wondering if we were more alike than I remembered. “I just sit,” she said. “I remember how as kids, we would just love to come on the porch and sit and listen to the birds.” I asked her if she still does this. She said yes. “I love it,” she told me. “Ohhhhhh, I do.”

A few months ago, after having sat on the porch for years with my grandaddy, sharing laughs and coffee along with the sound of birds and the cool South Carolina breeze that would touch their cheeks, grandma said her final goodbyes to him. That moment too was wrapped in silence. Grandaddy had dementia. Every time I saw him, at least for the last few years, he repeated the same story over and over, again and again, until I got proficient at telling the story to him before he started talking. “There was El Paso, Texas,” I would say. “And then there was the poetry,” I would say. “And then …. Let me see …” At that moment, he would laugh, pop me three times in my chest with the black side of his hand, before giving me the type of hug that was gestured by one minute of heavy laughter. “You on the good foot,” he would ask, mimicking James Brown the best way he could. “Of course grandaddy,” I would say. “You already know.”

That morning, the morning coronavirus made his heart beat faster than my legs ever ran on the football field or across the floors of the church, and then ultimately making it beat so hard that it finally gave way to a singular line, grandma looked at his body, clothed in the white gown with blue streaks, through the glass barrier. She could not touch him. She could not kiss him. She could not touch the top of his head nor grasps the depths of his feet. The next time that would happen: the day of the funeral. I’ll never forget that day or the sound or the picture of her rough hands touching him and sitting as still as the trees that surround their house. I’ll never forget it.

I’ll also never forget that afternoon, the house smelling like perfume, chicken, sweet potato pie and grief, the moments grandma and I shared on the porch. We didn’t say much. We just sat there. Together. Cars lined the concrete road, dirt and rocks mixed; loud voices were heard faintly through the shut door. Her hands rested in her lap. She still had on the two-piece suit she wore to the funeral. Blue, with a white blouse, the pink flower resting on the left side of her chest.

The dawn chorus is said to be the song of blackbirds, robins, Eurasian wrens and chaffinches. It is said to mark the magical beginnings of a new day. It is said that it is an explosion of life bursting out of the Earth that makes the heart leap. It is said that whether you are in the city or in the country that you can hear this sound. It is said that this sound is most noticeable in spring.

crowd of people inside room dancing while watching person singingPhoto by James Barr on Unsplash

Well, grandma said when she sits on the porch every morning, she hears less and less birds singing. I guess she meant that with grandaddy being gone, the birds are lot less happy like her and that like Toni Morrison’s Shalimar in "Song of Solomon," grandaddy has learned how to fly and has found his rest. I guess when she said that less birds are around and then started talking about climates changing, she was talking about our lack of pausing to care for the Earth and noticing how things so precious aren’t around anymore. I guess she was saying that we too are like the birds, we have survived so much and have found a way to greet each other in the morning with something that makes the heart softer. I guess she didn’t mean any of that, but to remind me the power of our presence together in grief: it weds what we lost to what we remember and lets us know that so much love remains.

The birds of the morning turn a song into a memory, an ordinary porch into an altar. What else can we give to one another in these moments of sadness but something that reminds each other that there are two of us here? What else can we give to one another but the assurance that stories don’t always when bad things happen?

The birds greeted me this morning. My windows were up. Grandma sat on the porch. We sipped coffee together.

Identity

Celebrate International Women's Day with these stunning photos of female leaders changing the world

The portraits, taken by acclaimed photographer Nigel Barker, are part of CARE's "She Leads the World" campaign.

Images provided by CARE

Kadiatu (left), Zainab (right)

True

Women are breaking down barriers every day. They are transforming the world into a more equitable place with every scientific discovery, athletic feat, social justice reform, artistic endeavor, leadership role, and community outreach project.

And while these breakthroughs are happening all the time, International Women’s Day (Mar 8) is when we can all take time to acknowledge the collective progress, and celebrate how “She Leads the World.

This year, CARE, a leading global humanitarian organization dedicated to empowering women and girls, is celebrating International Women’s Day through the power of portraiture. CARE partnered with high-profile photographer Nigel Barker, best known for his work on “America’s Next Top Model,” to capture breathtaking images of seven remarkable women who have prevailed over countless obstacles to become leaders within their communities.

“Mabinty, Isatu, Adama, and Kadiatu represent so many women around the world overcoming incredible obstacles to lead their communities,” said Michelle Nunn, President and CEO of CARE USA.

Barker’s bold portraits, as part of CARE’s “She Leads The World” campaign, not only elevate each woman’s story, but also shine a spotlight on how CARE programs helped them get to where they are today.

About the women:

Mabinty

international womens day, care.org

Mabinty is a businesswoman and a member of a CARE savings circle along with a group of other women. She buys and sells groundnuts, rice, and fuel. She and her husband have created such a successful enterprise that Mabinty volunteers her time as a teacher in the local school. She was the first woman to teach there, prompting a second woman to do so. Her fellow teachers and students look up to Mabinty as the leader and educator she is.

Kadiatu

international womens day, care.org

Kadiatu supports herself through a small business selling food. She also volunteers at a health clinic in the neighboring village where she is a nursing student. She tests for malaria, works with infants, and joins her fellow staff in dancing and singing with the women who visit the clinic. She aspires to become a full-time nurse so she can treat and cure people. Today, she leads by example and with ambition.

Isatu

international womens day, care.org

When Isatu was three months pregnant, her husband left her, seeking his fortune in the gold mines. Now Isatu makes her own way, buying and selling food to support her four children. It is a struggle, but Isatu is determined to be a part of her community and a provider for her kids. A single mother of four is nothing if not a leader.

Zainab

international womens day, care.org

Zainab is the Nurse in Charge at the Maternal Child Health Outpost in her community. She is the only nurse in the surrounding area, and so she is responsible for the pre-natal health of the community’s mothers-to-be and for the safe delivery of their babies. In a country with one of the world’s worst maternal death rates, Zainab has not lost a single mother. The community rallies around Zainab and the work she does. She describes the women who visit the clinic as sisters. That feeling is clearly mutual.

Adama

international womens day, care.org

Adama is something few women are - a kehkeh driver. A kehkeh is a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi, known elsewhere as a tuktuk. Working in the Kissy neighborhood of Freetown, Adama is the primary breadwinner for her family, including her son. She keeps her riders safe in other ways, too, by selling condoms. With HIV threatening to increase its spread, this is a vital service to the community.

Ya Yaebo

international womens day, care.org

“Ya” is a term of respect for older, accomplished women. Ya Yaebo has earned that title as head of her local farmers group. But there is much more than that. She started as a Village Savings and Loan Association member and began putting money into her business. There is the groundnut farm, her team buys and sells rice, and own their own oil processing machine. They even supply seeds to the Ministry of Agriculture. She has used her success to the benefit of people in need in her community and is a vocal advocate for educating girls, not having gone beyond grade seven herself.

On Monday, March 4, CARE will host an exhibition of photography in New York City featuring these portraits, kicking off the multi-day “She Leads the World Campaign.

Learn more, view the portraits, and join CARE’s International Women's Day "She Leads the World" celebration at CARE.org/sheleads.


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