Tis the season for nests and baby birds everywhere! We were fortunate when a finch family nested in the floral arrangement hanging on our front storm door. We had first row seats to all the action, and the lessons were abundant. I also had an encounter with a baby mockingbird who took a premature fall, but allowed me to help him find his wings. He taught me a valuable truth along with the finch family.
The mama and papa finch didn’t just sit around wishing, hoping and praying to one day have a big family. They were expectant! They spent hours bringing one twig or one leaf at a time to build a nest for their family. We can’t know if they had doubts, but they took action and did their part to set themselves up for success. After their preparation was complete, they carefully laid their eggs and watched over them with great attention. Their part was done and it was time to trust, surrender and wait.
It’s easy to have big goals, but sometimes more difficult to take small, daily steps to bring them to fruition. Imagine if the mama and papa finch waited until the babies were here and then tried to quickly build a nest? It doesn’t work that way. We have to step out in faith, do the footwork and then trust our hard work will pay off.
Bonus lesson: surrender. How good are most of us at surrendering once we’ve taken the necessary steps toward realizing our plans? Often I’ll do the legwork, but then I want to keep pushing, trying to make everything happen according to my vision and my time frame. Patience is a virtue that does not come easily to me! I am continuing to learn when to take action and when to let go of the outcome and allow circumstances to unfold more naturally.
Challenge a Fearful Mindset
I could open the front door carefully and peek through the crack to see the mama and papa finch sitting in their nest. Usually the mama would be sitting on the eggs and the papa would be standing guard on the edge of the nest. Hearing the door squeak open, the papa finch would take off and the mama finch would sit up on high alert waiting to see if she was in danger. Whenever I opened the door all the way, she flew off until she felt it was safe to return.
Once born, it wasn’t long before the babies adopted their mom’s behavior. When they were big enough, I could open the door slightly and suddenly see them sitting up attentively. They didn’t have any of their own life experience yet—this fear was learned. In fact they weren’t in any real danger because I had no intent to harm them. Yet they adopted their mothers fear and made it their own, without question.
How many adopted fears are we acting out on every day and we don’t even know why? Maybe there’s nothing to fear at all? Certainly intuition and experience give us reason to exercise caution, but some of our adopted behaviors and beliefs may need to be challenged for truth.
Follow Those Who Have Gone Before
The baby finches seem to get bigger every day. On the day when all the baby birds would leave the nest for good, my husband said he could see the mama and papa finch flying around with a little trail of birds following them before leading the family back to the nest. A training exercise I guess? He’s not certain that’s what he saw but it sure sounds good.
Why do we try to do everything by ourselves when there are plenty of people who have gone before us and are willing to show us how they did it and what they learned? Utilize parents, mentors, coaches—those who are a little further down the path than us—to shortcut our path to success. Learn from their mistakes so we don’t have to make as many. Allow them to show us how it’s done and be grateful to one day pay it forward to someone coming up behind you.
Trust in Perfect Timing
Out of five baby birds, I was able to witness four of them flying away. The first two went together and the others left one at a time, when they were ready. Every single time, we could hear their family coaxing them, but discomfort played a role too as they were challenged by my opening the door to watch. The first two hopped up on the edge, looked ahead and looked behind. I could almost see their hesitation confronted by their confidence, thinking, “This is supposed to work.” In no time, they both jumped and found their wings. The next baby bird was just as hesitant. He took off with less courage and sort of flitted to the ground below. He hopped around two or three times and then flew right up into the tree in front of our home, joining his family eagerly awaiting him. I looked at the last two babies and told them, “No shame. When you’re ready, you will know it. Take your time.”
Everybody has their own time frame, and we must follow that even if our friends and family don’t understand our reasoning. I didn’t see the second to the last finch baby leave, and the next time I checked there was one bird left. I had been upstairs painting and could hear the mama finch chirping incessantly. I finally went downstairs to see what was going on and found that only one bird remained. I could tell she was desperately loved and they wanted her to join them and see what the world was like. I told her she was wonderful and special and that when she was ready, she would do great. As I was trying to take her picture, I guess she realized her time had come. In response, she got up on the edge and after a moment’s hesitation, she jumped. She flew briefly and landed in the grass a few feet away. In less than ten seconds, she was airborne again and flew up to meet her family in the evergreen tree.
No one can tell us when it’s our time—our time to start, to stop, or to change. We alone must make the decision and then give ourselves to our choice wholeheartedly. We instinctively know when it’s time and we don’t have to let fear or doubt stand in the way.
Ask for Help
A few days ago, I found a baby mockingbird hopping around in my backyard chirping steadily. I could hear his family answering back in a nearby tree. I found remnants of a nest that had fallen and this little one must not have been quite ready to fly. Inside a small box, I packed dried grass and twigs and placed the fallen nest on top. Climbing up on a ladder, I nestled the box inside the crook of a tree and nailed it securely in place. The baby bird stood by watching me until it was time for me to catch him and transport him back up into the tree. He was not at all happy when I tried to pick him up. Using a large cup, I was able to scoop him inside and release him into the nest, only to have him jump right back out, fall eight feet and land squawking on the ground again. I cringed and told him to please let me help him!
I tried it again and this time the baby bird stayed put. He stood on the edge of his new home and chirped back and forth with his family. After watching for a while to make sure he was okay, I left. Hours later, I returned to find he was gone from the nest and nowhere to be found. My husband said he needed the height I gave him in order to learn how to fly. Taking off for the first time from the ground was too difficult and by placing him up high, he had room to jump and learn how to use his wings. For some reason, the name ‘Gary’ was written on the side of the box so we refer to him now as Gary. I like to believe I saved this baby mockingbird and gave him a second chance.
We all need help from time to time and there’s shame in asking for it or receiving it. We need each other. One day it might be me who needs help, and tomorrow it may be you. We can be here for each other and do what we can when life throws our friends an unexpected curve.
Let Them Go
I think about Gary and the finch family often. Two years ago, our only son left for college. While it took some getting used to, my husband and I had adjusted to living alone. Now after assisting a mocking bird baby find flight, and having cheered on a family of finches over the last month, sadly we are empty nesters again—literally! I feel a piece of my heart is gone. I keep checking the front floral arrangement for the finches but it remains empty. I had hoped they would come back and spend the night, at least the first few nights, but my finch family hasn’t returned. We see finches in the front yard and say hello. When I see mockingbirds flying around, I like to believe one of them is Gary, living life to the fullest. I have to let them go.
If we have to hold tight to something, it’s not really ours anyway and we will limit their full development. Life is a lot like fishing: catch, love and release; catch, love and release. As Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.” I always thought Shakespeare said this and was fascinated to read the real story behind this poem by Tennyson after losing his best friend unexpectedly. While it’s difficult when life brings transition to relationships, with intention we can count it all joy and be grateful for what we have, while we have it.
Until next time, may your gifts be abundant!