I am aware that my recent entries, for the most part, focus on the darker, pain-rendering elements of existence. Maybe it’s the winter, with its thin veils, diminished daylight, and its ability to cleave into my heart a longing for itself — a form of love made truer by its emergence from the improbable, from the place of not-love. Heidegger wrote that pain rends, but also joins.
As it turns out, a good friend pointed me to an essay by Loren Eiseley, “Judgment of the Birds,” which captures the reason I’ve forayed into that which is painful – namely that I’m alive:
“The sun was warm there, and the murmurs of forest life blurred softly away into my sleep. When I awoke, dimly aware of some commotion and outcry in the clearing, the light was slanting down through the pines in such a way that the glade was lit like some vast cathedral. I could see the dust motes of wood pollen in the long shaft of light, and there on the extended branch sat an enormous raven with a red and squirming nestling in his beak.
“The sound that awoke me was the outraged cries of the nestling’s parents, who flew helplessly in circles about the clearing. The sleek black monster was indifferent to them. He gulped, whetted his beak on the dead branch a moment, and sat still. Up to that point the little tragedy had followed the usual pattern. But suddenly, out of all that area of woodland, a soft sound of complaint began to rise. Into the glade fluttered small birds of half a dozen varieties drawn by the anguished outcries of the tiny parents.
“No one dared attack the raven. But they cried there in some instinctive common misery, the bereaved and the unbereaved. The glade filled with their soft rustling and their cries. They fluttered as though to point their wings at the murderer. There was a dim intangible ethic he had violated, that they knew. He was a bird of death.
“And he, the murderer, the black bird at the heart of life, sat there, glistening in the common light, formidable, unmoving, unperturbed, untouchable.
“The sighing died. It was then I saw the judgment. It was the judgment of life against death. I will never see it again so forcefully presented. I will never hear it again in notes so tragically prolonged. For in the midst of protest, they forgot the violence. There, in the clearing, the crystal note of a song sparrow lifted hesitantly in the hush. And finally, after painful fluttering, another took the song, and then another, the song passing from one bird to another, doubtfully at first, as though some evil thing were being slowly forgotten. Till suddenly they took heart and sang from many throats joyously together as birds are known to sing. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight beautiful. They sang under the brooding shadow of the raven. In simple truth they had forgotten the raven, for they were singers of life, and not of death. “
Today’s Advice: “So it is as if what this speech bespeaks is ‘already in the heart,’ reflexively authenticating the truth in the speaking and confirming its address precisely to the hearer, namely oneself.” Henry Bugbee