There was a pair of house finches building a small nest outside our window. I’d watch them weave it all together—the female, with her muted brown feathers, working relentlessly on her art. The twigs meticulously placed, one over the next—how they intertwined with one another. The male, with his bright cherry red head and breast, supervising.
When the winds came strong, it fell. I watched them return, perplexed and wondering—hovering inside the air, flittering about and swooping down with exclamations when they found it on the concrete drive. I tried to place it back up in the eaves, and they returned to build it further—but a second bout of winds that afternoon had sent it falling once again. The exclamations returned; the chirrups and the diving; the way their wings cut through the air like glass. I took the empty nest and brought it in to sit beside the others I had gathered through the years. Of course, they would rebuild—and yet, there was a deep and overwhelming sadness that I felt on watching them search for what had fallen. They had tried so hard, and still they failed.
I like to think that it’s an opportunity for them—to build something better than they had built before. In a safer place, perhaps with sturdier twigs, or better binding. An opportunity only presented to them through their failure. Because opportunity doesn’t exist in certainty. In fact, it lives in quite the opposite space. And it doesn’t reside in the routine, but rather in the out of ordinary.
Still, though, it made me sad. Things were, of course, going to get better for the birds, but in that moment, they weren’t very good at all.
Our society has taken tumble after tumble in the recent months. There are vicious criticisms abounding in our culture; people armed with weapons to go to battle with disease. There is generational trauma that continues seeping deeply into our roots, and racism disguised as policy. Banks are taking money from small businesses, as an often-oppressive capitalistic system gaslights people into thinking that they just didn’t try hard enough. But they did. We all tried, and we all have, collectively and by no fault of our own, failed.
And though we are all vulnerable, suffering does not fall evenly. It never has, although we have not always put forth our best efforts to make it so. This does not mean you should not grieve your losses, it only means that you should also recognize your gratitudes. Because, while the spirit of sacrifice is alive and well in some, it is lacking vehemently in others, and the most vulnerable of us bear that brunt.
Still, it is confusing. The normal tools of human empathy—a hug, a hand, a touch—cannot fix this, and if anything, they make it worse. Sacrifice means serving our neighbors by staying six feet away from them, which means an outbreak of disease runs parallel to one of loneliness—both of which can be immensely destructive to the body or the mind.
It is okay to recognize that things aren’t very good at all. But work and progress don’t just disappear when you’ve hit a bump. And though it brings little consolation, we are all sharing this unique journey, and we do have choices. To share it with grace and wisdom, not with vitriol and violence. We have the choice to feed our inner compassion and creativity, in favor of our inner justice-complexes. We can still choose to be present, even from six feet away. We can listen, and we can share. We can lay down our arms and cast aside this cancerous and oppressive call for rights, which inherently, by its own nature, rejects our right to safety. Fear can be productive, but when fed by selfishness, it becomes detrimental. Empathy and generosity, even simple acts of kindness, are powerful tools—absolutely essential to our collective recovery.
But, most importantly, like the finches through my window, we can choose to not give up on building a great life. Maybe, instead, this is our moment to reinvent what we once thought greatness was.