How Do We Bear What’s Difficult to Bear?

chicks2by Kathy Simpson

My one-acre property has been a virtual wildlife center this season. Bears have returned repeatedly, even though there was no food to be had. I spied a bobcat prowling along my hillside, and a female turkey returned time and again, seemingly intent upon nesting in my front yard (giving up after what I presume to be too many human encounters – with me). At dusk one evening, a raccoon peered at me just feet from my back door before scuttling under the safety of my deck. The Phoebes are on their second brood of young ones, and the air is filled with the sounds of birds of so many different persuasions I cannot count or pretend to know. Such joy, such life, such bursting forth.

Newborns by Webcam

I’ve also been captivated by webcams featuring many newborn events at different locales all around the world. Two baby ospreys in Bremen, Maine caught my attention just after they hatched from their shells in early June. Scrawny and awkward, they were hardly recognizable as the magnificent raptors they would become. Teetering in their attempts to hold themselves upright, they cried open-mouthed for food as their mother obliged with the utmost of tenderness, gently feeding each with bits of the headless fish brought by her mate. Satisfied, the chicks would collapse in sleep until hunger roused them again.

I checked in on the family daily, witnessing the babies’ rapid growth — the early signs of feathers, their talons almost adult sized, the unwieldy limbs destined to become the massive wings that would one day propel them forward in flight and in pursuit of their prey. The mother was ever-present and vigilant day and night, in fair weather and foul. On one stormy day, she remained hunched in stillness over her babes as the rain endlessly pelted her feathered body. Her devotion was unwavering.

Even the Utmost of Vigilance

Then the awful happened. About two weeks after their birth, an eagle attacked the nest, snatching first one chick and then the other. It happened in an instant with only a glimpse caught by the webcam. The mother attempted to attack the attacker. She failed. The babes were gone.

It was heartbreaking. The parents were stunned and clearly grieved. Quietly, they stayed with the nest. One unviable egg that will never hatch remained. The male took to laying on it for a time, his partner nearby. Yesterday, they did some pruning of the nest together. Today, the female is perched at the far end of the nest’s beam, still watchful and protective.

Mother ospreyThe community of webcam viewers has been mourning with an outpouring of comments. I am among them.

Nature has her way, at once lovely and terrible. We love her beauty but decry her dark side. How do we bear what feels unbearable? We can become angry and indignant, turn away, never be present in the first place, or otherwise run from the suffering that life inevitably delivers. The truth is that we all respond in all of these ways to some degree at one time or another, but ultimately these are bandaids over our wounds, not remedies that heal.

Lessons from Loss

We can also take a lesson from the ospreys who did something different: they simply stayed.

This is the training of a lifetime for me, one that I’ve only been able to begin to cultivate through years of mindfulness and meditation practice. I am a self-proclaimed imperfect student of being with whatever feeling arises, of getting myself out of the swirl of thought and leaning into experience, as Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron advises, with as much kindness, compassion and patience as I can muster. This means feeling – both more of the good stuff and the kind that hurts.

I feel such sadness about the loss of the baby chicks, posthumously named Big and Little, and for the bereaved parents that I hope will try again next year. It only makes sense that the delight I felt at beholding their trembling newborn lives would turn to anguish when they were taken. And so this is another sweet opportunity for practice.

Kathy Simpson is a freelance writer with Copper Beech Institute who specializes in mindful living and holistic health. She is a regular contributor to Copper Beech Institute’s mindfulness and contemplative practice blog, Awaken Everyday.

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