A fine mess

After being away on vacation all last week, my first order of business on returning home was to check on the four baby house finches that hatched in the wreath on my front door. I’d been chronicling their development daily, so I knew many changes would occur in my absence.

Here is what I discovered:

1) The babies are now well-feathered; their skin-head mohawks have become mere wisps upon their downy crowns.

2) Two of the babies can fly. They sailed out of the nest this morning as I approached. The other two stayed put, their bright little eyes regarding me with a mixture of curiosity and apprehension.

3) Their nest is one spectacular conglomeration of droppings.

To be fair, the droppings are only around the rim; the mother collects them there. What a job, building a wall of excrement. Worse than diapers. When I first wrote of the perfect, flower-graced nest, the pale blue eggs, the hatching of the tiny pink nestlings, I concentrated on the beauty and wonder of life. I pointed out that the collective noun for a group of finches is a charm.

And charmed I was.

There is nothing charming about that nest now.

The fledglings themselves, of course, are enchanting. They’ll soon be gone, the circle of life will go on, and all that will remain of these magical moments is a monumental mess.

But that’s the story of life. It’s messy. It can’t be comprised solely of breathtaking beauty and newness; if it were, we could not recognize these moments for what they are. They’d lose their value. Only when contrasted with ugliness, hardships, and pain can we see and cherish the beautiful when it comes. We inevitably deal with messes, some that occur naturally, some created by others, some of our own making. Therein lie all the stories . . .

Which makes me think of writing. This nest is a tangible (although I do not wish to touch it) reminder of these commonalities:

-Life is messy.

-Writing is messy.

-Thinking is messy.

-Teaching is messy.

To do any of these well, we have to be willing to accept and even embrace the messiness. We must certainly persevere through it to arrive at the beautiful. It takes courage, stamina, and a lot of hard work, to write well, to think well, to teach well, to live well.

The strength to do so, I believe, lies in believing that the beautiful will come. It’s all a matter of trust, of faith. And pressing on.

Although I was appalled by the quantity of accumulated—um, bird-doo—around the nest, I was also amazed that two of my four little finches could fly. Last night they couldn’t; today they can. Tomorrow the others might.

This is a message to me about readiness.

Everyone arrives as a writer, a thinker, a teacher, a good practitioner of life, in their own time. Lots of messes will be made along the way. Sorting this out is what grows us. One by one, as children, as adults, as long as we live, we are continually growing the necessary wings to fly beyond where we are. And it’s truly a collective, collaborative growth; we are to nudge each other when needed, but not too hard, too soon. We’re not to hold back, to hold one another back, simply because we cannot see all that lies ahead and for fear of navigating the unknown. Knowledge comes by trying. By experiencing. By taking risks. There’s an implicit difference between throwing caution to the wind and taking a leap of faith, that being potential self-destruction versus healthy maturation. These finches know. As the day wears on, I watch the two fledglings that can fly going back and forth from the eaves to the nest, coaching their other two siblings on how to do it. See see see, I hear them cheeping. A bit at a time, a bit at a time. At any moment, those last two are going to get up on that nasty, messy rim and let go.

In more ways than one . . . .

So you make a mess. So what? So you’re alive and growing.

Tomorrow you stretch your newest feathers and find you can move on.

To where the beautiful awaits.

18 thoughts on “A fine mess

    • Thank you, Amy! I’m thankful that you enjoyed the post. I have so enjoyed my little bird adventure. It’s been another summer gift. A reminder to go slow and pay attention. 🙂

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  1. I had to smile at your post, because messy is exactly the state of my library-my classroom-at the moment, and it is making me anxious! The chaos comes from weeding this summer, reconfiguring the math kits to align with the current curriculum, and items left by departing teachers that have yet to be checked out by the eighteen new staff members we acquired. Here’s hoping I emerge flying from my messy nest today!

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    • I do not know how you librarians do it! (Is it ok to say “librarian” instead of “media specialist”?). I know I’d feel overwhelmed. I have no doubt you will rise like a phoenix. It’s just who you are. I am glad to know this made you smile!

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  2. To where the beauty awaits! There is so much beauty here and so many life lessons. You have a gift for really seeing and then finding a bigger picture. I’ve enjoyed these bird chronicles and following along all summer.

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    • Thanks so much, Jessica. I am happy that you’ve enjoyed my finch chronicles. I suspect this is my last installment. Maybe. We never know, do we? That’s the fun of writing – seeing what comes!

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  3. “To where the beautiful awaits!” What a magnificent post, sharing natural wonders and reflecting on powerful take-aways. I agree with Jessica that you have a gift for seeing and sharing a “bigger picture.” I haven’t read your other finch posts (How did that happen?!), but as a fledgling bird enthusiast, I’m going to go back and enjoy them. I, too, posted about a bird encounter today.

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    • I am so honored by your words. I am glad that we share this kinship of birds. The other post in this tiny series is “Charmed.” It has a video of a hatchling stretching his (?) tiny neck and another snuggling close for warmth. Sweetest thing ever!

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  4. There is so much in this wonderful post – I started copying a few quotes to comment on but they were too numerous to add. Let’s just say your connection to embracing the messiness is the one that I will hang on to as I move into the new year and new role. Thank you for sharing these words!

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    • Embracing the messiness takes some pressure off; many of us already put a lot of pressure on ourselves. We fear mistakes. But that’s how we learn. I am glad to think this is helpful to you as you go into your new role this year. My thoughts go with you – I know you’ll have beautiful moments! Thank you 🙂

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  5. While I definitely chuckled at parts of this post, I was awe-struck at most of it. Yes! The beauty and the mess- this is life. This is teaching. This is writing. This is living. You have a magical way with words. This is a post that resonates deeply in my heart. I’ll come back to it. Grateful for always for your words.

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  6. Love this! Your thoughts about messiness and its relationship to growth and life, your belief in the beauty, the way you see through this to teaching, to writing. My heart said a giant “YES” to all of it. Thank you for taking the time to share this.

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