Yesterday, a friend described feeling like she’s lugging a rock behind her, which sometimes has a hummingbird perched on top. Each time she yanks the tow-rope, the bird darts away, and when she stops moving, it settles again, calm atop the stone. Her sense of wholeness is an elusive green flash that perches while she’s unproductive and takes flight when she tries to accomplish things.
This might be the most beautiful and horrible metaphor I’ve ever heard, at once eloquent and devastating, elegant yet filled with so much frustration it makes my palms damp.
Her description reminds me of a nature programme about exceptional birds, which exposed the thread-thin chance a hummingbird has of surviving migration. After a quick pitstop to chug as much sugar as its body can hold, the bird then sets off across the Gulf of Mexico, a creature the size of a thumb crossing a body of water so large it takes four of my own thumbs to measure from shore to shore in an atlas.
Once, I spent a weekend at a cottage, a place I thought I was being taken to relax, swim, and fall in love. Instead, I discovered it was the guy’s last-ditch effort to convince himself there was something about me worth taking a chance on, when in fact, he didn’t believe this was the case. Long silences wedged our conversations as we awkwardly brushed shoulders, avoided eye contact, heard crickets in the weeds. Hummingbirds were everywhere. I even saw one pause and fold its wings against its nervous body, flightless while it poked its beak at a jug-shaped flower.
Instead of framing the weekend as a failure and the cottage as a destination for heartbreak, I see that place and those days as a chance for hummingbirds, and as the moment I dropped my grip from the rope that towed my own rock. No more lugging, no more clutching for things that dip and flit. Not only was that weekend not about a man, it was not about a hundred things. It was about brushing my palms against my thighs, pumping fresh breaths in and out, and seeing empty space. It was about the moment when two of those fast green birds landed in my hair, and the wish I made.
Birds are deceptive; taut and tough despite toothpick skeletons. Fragile as fine-boned balloons, feathers stretched over their frames. Today, I think of my friend and her rock, me and mine, which I have since left behind. I think of wishbones and the luck we believe they contain. To reach that fortune, you must first devour the chicken and then dismantle the remains, taking care not to shatter that one V-shaped bone that holds luck like hope in a cup.
Then, you wish. A wish made on a flash of green, a wish made on a snapped bone, a wish made that we didn’t feel like wishing all the time, and the feeling on my palms as I take a chance on something new.