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Valatie, New York
Body/Soul | Fiction/Memoir
27 November 2021 07:56AM
Jamie Cat Callan

For the past seven months, while living with my dad as his care giver, I have been painting birds. All kinds of birds–inspired by my dad’s copy of the Audubon Society’s book, Birds of the World.

I moved in with my dad in May, and then in July, the birds began arriving. No, not just the painted birds, but real birds. First there was the little wren who flew into my dad’s living room one afternoon. I walked in and my dad, in a perfectly calm voice, said–”oh, there’s a bird in here. I think it’s a wren.”

My reaction: “There’s a bird in here! How did it get in here?!”

Dad’s response: “I don’t know. Maybe the chimney?”

The little wren had not come down the chimney. It was flying around, flitting here and there–from the curtain to the door around the bookshelves and back to the window. Yes, I was in a panic. Not just because there was a bird in the house, but because once when I was a student at Bard College a girl in the dorm had a bird in her room and she was in a panic because she believed that a bird in your house portends a death. Ever since that day, I have found birds flying inside your house a worrisome sign.

However, according to the Audubon Society, a bird in the house–specifically a wren–actually means you will not die from drowning. So, that’s good news.

But, back to my Dad’s wren–I took a broom and gently coaxed the wren to leave out the window. The bird survived this coaxing and neither my dad nor I died of drowning.

But then, in August, another wren arrived. It came into my bedroom in the back of the house and got trapped between the screen and the storm window. It was fluttering and cheeping. I imagined it was cheeping for its mama bird. My heart was breaking. I felt so awful for the poor little bird and awful for the mama bird. I pushed on the screen, but it wouldn’t budge, and then I asked my Dad’s physical therapist to help me free the bird. She’s a big, strong gal. She’s smart too. She must be over six feet tall. I figured, she’d be able to free the little bird. But, she couldn’t. Plus, she had other clients to visit. And so I spent the afternoon, alone, trying to free the bird. I couldn’t do anything else but stay on my bird patrol. I did not want this bird to die on my watch! I wanted to be a good bird person, kind to nature, careful and considerate. The thought of leaving the bird, trapped as it were, crying out for release–and then coming back into the room and finding it dead–well, this tormented me. If this bird dies, I thought, it will be all my fault! I will have killed this bird. I was overcome with the responsibility of it all. And so, I tried again and again and I’m not embarrassed to admit this, but I prayed for the little bird. And then, magically, my prayer was answered and I was able to free the chirping bird.

I know what you’re thinking–this is a metaphor for caring for my 97 year old father.

This fact is not lost on me.

Just a few weeks ago, I was able to go home to be with my husband for an entire week. It was truly wonderful. When I came back to Connecticut, my dad told me how another bird had visited him. I said, “really?”

And he said,

“yes, a bird came in while you were gone and asked where the artist was.”

“The artist?”

“Yes,” my dad said, “he wanted to know where the girl who paints birds was. He wanted to talk to you.”

“Me?”

“He said he wanted to model for you, but I told him the artist wasn’t here and that he’d have to come back.”

This is classic Papa Callan.

He has this amazing ability to slip and slide between the pragmatic and the fantastical.

And this is why I love him so.

Creative friends, your assignment this week is to free your mind and take flight. Find something that is real and then look for the elements of fantasy.

And then, I want you to go back and take this fantasy, and find something real in it. This is an exercise you can do with yourself anytime, anywhere. It builds flexibility and trains your imagination to travel far and wide and after a while you’ll find that the sky’s the limit. Truly.

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