And yet here’s something I’m realizing about myself: when it comes to paying attention, I use my eyes far more than I use my ears. As a result, I tend to miss a lot.
This hit me two weeks ago when I was out on a Sunday morning walk around the neighborhood. I love taking solo walks at this time of the day; not a lot of people are out yet and the light is gentle and lovely. As I walk around our little postwar neighborhood, I look at the new leaves on the trees, the yellow daffodils, the lavender wisteria, the rosebushes that are unfolding in sunset colors. It’s a feast for my gardening-loving eyes. I get a lot of ideas on these walks.
But on that morning a few weeks ago, I suddenly realized that there was birdsong in the trees above me. Unseen birds were conversing, saying whatever it is that birds say, and it was arresting and beautiful. There were no traffic sounds or voices around me; all I heard were the trills and chirps and melodies filling the morning silence.
It was a happy sound, a sound that made me think instinctively of springtime and Easter. I started to think about how birdsong is a sign of life, of an entire world and community operating within our own. It’s a community that we (or at least I) take for granted and rarely acknowledge in my thoughts. And yet how beautiful those sounds are, and how impoverished the world would be without them.
Then — English teacher nerd that I am — the John Keats poem “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” sprang to mind as I continued along the sidewalk. I thought of how the haunted and betrayed knight keeps wandering through the countryside, even though the sedge (grass) has withered from the lake, “and no birds sing.” Keats repeats that line twice, and it’s the final line of this poem. It’s as if he recognizes that a world without birdsong is the only fit setting for the knight, who has been seduced and abandoned by the beautiful woman without mercy. The silent, birdless countryside is a dead world for a dead soul.
But a world where many birds sing: that’s the world we live in. There is life all around us, in the trees and on the telephone wires and nesting in the eaves. We don’t always see this graceful and beautiful life, but it’s there, making springtime even more glorious than it already is.
And if we train our ears to be as alert as our eyes, we can’t miss it.