Essential Bits

It’s happened to all of us. In conversation, someone makes a seemingly unimportant comment that suddenly, for us in that moment, becomes essentially important.

This happened to me recently and I’ve been thinking about it ever since. The comment came at the tail-end of a session in a writer’s workshop that I was so fortunate to have attended in the south of France. One of the participants, a birder, mentioned her deep desire to travel with again her husband to Southeast Asia, in search of Bowerbirds.

“Bowerbirds?” I asked; having never heard of them.

She explained that there are eight types of Bowerbirds in the world; named for the colorful ‘bachelor pad’ nests – bowers — built by the males, to attract their mates. There is one species in particular, she described, that gathers only blue-colored items to add to its bower-weaving of twigs.

I had lived my life quite well, thank you very much, without ever hearing of or seeing a bowerbird before that day. Yet, something in her comment about the bits of blue stirred the edge of my soul, leaving me with a deep yearning to learn more.

Off we went to write for the afternoon. Trying to clear my head, and find inspiration for our writing assignment, I tried to write a few fledgling sentences, But I just couldn’t get my mind off of bowerbirds. Deciding to stop my self-imposed resistance, I soon found myself in my web browser, devouring myriad photos and articles; each tidbit piquing my interest to learn more. I even came across a link to a PBS Nature program entitled, “Bower Bird Blues.” “For God’s sake,” I thought, “does the whole world know about bowerbirds?” An avid nature program consumer, I wondered how I missed this. And I wondered why, suddenly, it seemed so urgently-essential for me to learn more about this species of bird.

In one particular photo, I marveled at the diversity of blue items had been woven into the nest of a male satin bowerbird. A scrap of fabric. A bottle cap. A blue berry. Even a piece of blue shell. Some items from nature. Others, man-made. Again, my soul stirred.

Still feeling unsettled, I decided to go outside to the terrace of the chateau where we were staying. As I gazed at the blue of the sky and of the sea, like camera lens being moved into focus, I slowly began to understand my need to know more about the blue gatherings of the bowerbird.

When I arrived in France for the workshop, all but one of the women was a complete stranger to me. As our week unfolded, the diversity of our group was apparent. We were eight very different women, with different life experiences, living in different cities, with different life styles. Yet, from each person, in the opening of themselves through our writing exercises and conversation, something essential was shared from their heart with mine that I didn’t realize I needed. Until then.

From one came the inspiration and courage to try new experiences. From another, a witness to the transformative power of a deeply immersive experience. Still another, finding humor in unexpected places. And from yet another, the encouragement to dream, after the age of fifty. And so on.

And there is was, in metaphor of blue fabric, bottle cap, berry and shell – a unique gift from each woman, as essential for my well-being as the blue of the sky and sea before me. Such potent reminders of the power of human connection and of the essential necessity of community.

Now, ten days later, and thousands of miles from that idyllic place, like the bowerbird, I find myself remembering eight special women, and gratefully weaving their essential and unique gifts, so generously shared, into the ever-changing bower that is my own life.

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