Small Wonder

Jul 23, 2012

****As a special gift to my readers (and to myself) I have asked a couple of friends to be my guests. This a beautiful post written by my brother, Bob Gulian. You may remember the name from the Brothers Gulian post I wrote. Enjoy!

I commute to New York City from Katonah, New York, everyday, on the train. The rail station at Katonah is simply a glass and steel staircase that rises to an enclosed platform where you can buy tickets and keep warm in the winter. Two weeks ago I was climbing the staircase when a splash of color by my feet caught my eye. I saw that it was a bird sitting on the cement floor of the halfway landing. Then, confounding my 7:00 a.m. another-day-another-dollar sense of reality, I recognized that it was a hummingbird.

It was quite a beautiful creature, purple with rainbow highlights and a splotch of ruby-red at its throat. There was that distinctive long, needle nosed beak and black eyes that blinked up at me signaling that it was alive.

“I’m hosed, here, buddy,” it said, using blinks to communicate.

Why wasn’t it fluttering around and diving at the windows like birds do when they’re trapped? People passed me going up, seemingly unaware of this very important calamity. Weren’t we all going to get together and help the little guy? No, apparently not. We were not going to do anything; it was up to me, solely and only me.

At first I tried an antiseptic approach, attempting to scoop the bird onto a notebook but it was a clumsy, awkward idea and the bird just flew to the other side of the stairs and continued to blink.

“That was totally lame and I am exhausted,” it said.

Could I really pick a hummingbird up in my hands? Had that ever been done before? I reached down and cupped my hands over the bird, feeling it flutter but, luckily, not stabbing me with its beak. I brought my hands together and it tried to escape so I wedged one its tiny wings between my index and middle finger. I picked it up and quickly walked back down the stairs. I saw a little garden with a wide rock and I decided I’d put the hummingbird down there so at least if it was a goner, it would die in an open and natural space.

When I opened my hands to set it down, it came alive and shot off into the blue sky towards the surrounding trees. My hands still felt the impossibly rapid beating of those wings and I was lifted up into all the possibilities of freedom and life. I was stunned into happiness and remained a blissful idiot for most of the morning. Of course, eventually, I came back to earth. As long as there are other people in the world, there is something for me to complain about.

In the past two weeks I’ve told this story to anyone who would listen and, as is usual when I communicate something important to me to other people, the story transforms in my mind and gets me wondering if there is something deeper. At first, I just thought I was in the place God wanted me to be in at that time. Unfortunately, there have been other times when I was there, the creature or human that needed help was there, but I walked on by, letting it be someone else’s problem. Then I started looking at the uniqueness of this particular problem.

Why hadn’t the bird been able to escape by itself? I reexamined the staircase the next day and noticed that from the landing, I could not see open sky. The only visible sky was through the thick glass windows. The hummingbird would have had to fly down towards the sidewalk visible at the entrance to the stairwell in order to fly back up into the trees, a concept that I can only assume does not come naturally to birds especially when they are seeing clear sky through the glass walls. That’s when it hit me. I am an expert in having to go down in order to get back up!

A certain 12 step program I belong to talks about the necessity of having to “hit bottom” in order to accept the need to change. I’ve been there, knowing that this last try at relocating, changing jobs, getting a new girl friend, taking on a new philosophy or therapy was not going to work. I went flying at the glass, at the illusion of freedom just the same and then, there I was, desperate and worn out; ‘I’m hosed, here, buddy’.

That, the exact moment of surrender was the turnaround, the beginning of the flight up. When people within the aforementioned twelve step program ask, ‘Have I really hit bottom?’, I have to answer that I don’t really know. It’s a personal thing; certainly flying the white flag and asking for help are good signs. The great thing about the bottom is the magnitude of the trip back up. I mean, it might be an epic full of huge steps forward, dramatic reversals, and long boring stretches where you’re letting time take its time. It’s like being given another life, one that begins in humbleness and awareness of the grace of the universe.

I don’t really think in these sweeping terms most of the time. I’m usually just aware, if I’m lucky, that little birds and I am loved. The hummingbird did not need my expertise at recovery; it just needed a hand. The bird got freedom and I got wonder and was reminded that this awe at the machinations of the God clock is what I live for.

It turns out, after a little research into hummingbirds and this blog master’s insistence that I provide a picture of one of the little fellows, that people pick them up all the time. In fact, from the amount of pictures, they seem to like human hands almost as much as they like flowers.

Bob Gulian is a husband, father, writer and musician. He also makes a living doing things with a computer I can’t even begin to explain. Most significantly he is the best big brother in the whole wide world.

Photo by Fred Cavese