Feed the Birds

I loved the movie Mary Poppins when I was small, and surely will still love it whenever I see it again. The charm of the story combined with such a well-cast ensemble and the magic of cinematic technology are hard to surpass. I loved the sweetness and buoyancy of the tale and its jolly playfulness and the marvelous escapism of it all. Those were surely the characteristics the filmmakers intended to capture children’s hearts and attentions.

But perhaps more than any other thing about that movie, I think, I loved the song Feed the Birds. It seemed such a small thing in the scope and scale of the whole production, but that, in fact, may be precisely what makes it still stand out in my mind. That, of course, must have been part of the grand plan as well. Clearly, it worked on me. As little and secondary as it may have appeared in the grand scheme of the cinematic version of the story, that song’s piquant minor melody and, especially, its very allusion to the importance of the seemingly insignificant stay with me and move me even when little else of the film’s specifics remain in my memory. I’ve read that this was precisely the intent of the piece and its inclusion in the film. Clever, that Mr Disney and his professional storytelling cohort.

Clever, and they weren’t wrong either.

The beggar urging passersby to trade their tuppence for her packets of bird seed, as well as the birds hungering for it in the hardscape of the city are both easily avoided, neglected or despised by the better fed citizens who might rather brush them off than admit to their existence. That little vignette reminds us, and rightly so, just how much those persons, creatures and events we’d often prefer to ignore or deny really mean.

Their loss or abandonment creates a much more profound emptiness than their seemingly small stature could possibly imply. It’s the barrenness of spirit, of humaneness and hospitality, of compassion and grace in the rest of us, that is the real cost of failing to tend to the weak and small. And it can be the smallest gesture, tiny as a handful of bird seed, that opens the way for healing and humanity and hope.photo

Enter Two Figures, Stage Right, Smoking

It’s weird, downright bizarre, to watch vintage film and plays and see hospital scenes where the doctors and nurses and orderlies are all puffing madly on their unfiltered cigarettes while earnestly counseling and tending their patients to make them all as healthy as they, their caregivers, are. To see those marvelously odd advertisements of yore with the top athletes of the day touting the energizing and strengthening effects their favorite brands of smokes give them. I watch such things with the same sort of astonishment I feel on observing the freakish footnotes of science as the pendulum swings back and forth with abandon, belying the idea that scientific discoveries lead to indisputable fact, or that even more outlandish concept, that once something is accepted as fact it would change how we behave.digital collageBecause what’s sincerely weird and bizarre, odd and freakish is that there are still millions of people, even many who will say outright that they believe smoking has been proven to be a health hazard, who smoke cigars, cigarettes and pipes, use snuff, or chew tobacco. I get the older folk who’ve been smoking since well before it was generally considered a given that it was a bad idea and likely to shorten or worsen one’s lifespan, knowing what a deeply addicting ‘treat’ tobacco is. A friend who was both a smoker and an alcoholic long ago swore that giving up drinking was absolute child’s play compared to kicking the nicotine habit. It’s those who, growing up in generations that predicated their smoking views on the premise of its outsized dangers, still choose to start smoking, that mystify me utterly. But then, I am amazed and flummoxed and otherwise mystified by anyone wanting to ride motorcycles without helmets, imbibe hallucinogens, run with the bulls, free dive competitively, juggle chainsaws, charm cobras, or any of that other adrenaline-junkie stuff.photoThen again, millions of people are bound to be equally agog that I would risk my health eating the way that I do, waste my time being an artist and writer, or be so stupid as to like any number of the things I enjoy and admire. Perhaps one day there will be a play or movie of my life, made for the sheer entertainment of people who like being shocked by my great idiocy and strangeness and find it hard to believe I survived to the great old age of fifty-two (or, hopefully, much more) with my inexplicable bundle of psychoses masquerading as the stuff that charmed me. I bow to you and take my leave, friends. I know that I shall die, but we can only guess which of us will get there first.

Love-Birds of a Feather

I’m as much a sucker for a good bird-brained, glutinous, weepy love story as the next guy. But I only like that stuff in fiction, and only in small doses. It’s not enough for me that a love story should have a meet-cute first act and an upbeat dĂ©nouement–it’s the stretch between that ought to be uplifting and exciting. Yes, it’s a rather charming sounding concept, at least on paper perhaps, that love would be perfectly lifelong (a lot riding on how long the lives happen to be) and all-encompassing. Yet aside from the exceedingly rare few seemingly flawless pairs for whom there is no apparent need for a world outside of them at all, most of the best relationships I’ve seen or known happen because they comprise two actual individuals, with all of their own unique characteristics, their daily existence intertwining intimately without losing the color and clarity of those individual souls shaped by their distinct thoughts, actions, experiences and inspirations. A true partnership, with all the challenges of give-and-take, beats cloning any day.

That popular book-and-movie of my younger days, Erich Segal‘s ‘Love Story‘, may by now be better remembered for its tagline ‘Love means never having to say you’re sorry‘ than for its actual story of an opposites-attract kind of couple barging and charming their way through thick and thin, plucky and witty and utterly devoted to each other [because of course his haughty family has disowned him for linking up with One of Them, not of Us], until she dies–but very prettily, mind you–of leukemia and her grieving spouse is reunited with his estranged father. The whole story I could take reasonably well, but that one phrase really stuck in my craw, negating all of the negotiations it took to get the fictional couple from their meeting to the bittersweet end of their partnership at her death. Never mind that Segal himself seems to have had a great marriage that defied the glossy sentimentality of such a thing, it always struck me as cheapening the very joy of learning each other’s ways and enriching each other by simply being flawed and odd yet willing to figure out how to fit the two brands of strangeness together well. If I interpret the slogan as regarding regrets rather than apologies, it’s less distasteful to me, though I still think if there’s no risk of hurt, there’s little chance of reward either. The ultimate hurt, in this case, being not death (the old inevitable, despite the dramatic awfulness of its being untimely and painful in this heroine’s case) but the possibility of the relationship failing or being destroyed.

I guess it boils down to this: if a so-called love is so flimsy and flighty it can’t withstand mistakes and the necessary if clumsy duct tape and chewing gum sort of repairs we make on it, how can it be worthy of the name love at all? I much prefer the sort where feathers do get ruffled occasionally but the draw of true companionship and care and hilarity and comfort and adventure all together makes it well worth smoothing them back down.digital illustration from a photoMore than anybody else I know, I have been lucky in love.

I have never suffered through ill-treatment, being dumped or neglected or abused or any of that terrible stuff. I was raised by kind, loving, enjoyable parents–who still seem to think I’m worth keeping around–and have three wonderful sisters who have also kept my coffers filled with affection and excellent companionship. I’ve had a raft of kind friends who have been constant in their warm and encouraging presence throughout my days. Even the teachers, co-workers, postal carriers and shopkeepers peopling my life’s paths have generally been of a goodly sort. Best of all, I am lucky to know just how lucky I have been. And am.

No, that’s not exactly right: the true pinnacle of all this is that I found a best friend I could love, and be loved by, in the truest sense, for the rest of my life. It’s his birthday today, and I can’t help but be reminded how wildly blessed and fortunate I am in having him as my partner and daily companion as well as my great love. Being the best of friends makes all of the rest of it possible, the love and joy and kindness and life challenges faced together. We are birds of a feather, my love and I, and I wish him a long and marvelous series of birthdays yet to come. And a deeply happy one today, to get the rest of them started.

See you back at the ol’ nest by evening, my Sweet.photo montage