The other day I was riding through Central Park when I came upon a group of Bird Freds pointing their various lenses into a tree:
We’ve got some pretty cool birds in New York City. For example, hawks are pretty common, which I mention mostly as an excuse to once again post the greatest photo I ever took:
Also, Bald Eagles live along the Hudson River, as you can (sort of) see in this considerably poorer photo:
Therefore, given the abundance of Badass Flying Death Creatures (as I understand it that is the proper onithological term for raptors such as these), I figured anything that would draw such a crowd must be pretty cool indeed. So what was it? A Peregrine Falcon? A Bald Eagle with someone’s Chihuahua in its talons? A radioactive crack-addicted pigeon capable of shooting heat rays from its eyeballs?
Pulling over on the Platypus, I looked up into the tree in search of something obvious, but apart from some little regular-looking birds I couldn’t see anything. I was self-conscious about bothering the Bird Freds with their mortar-sized cameras, so instead I asked a woman who appeared to be a curious layperson like myself what all the fuss was about. With a shrug, she replied something like, “I dunno, I guess there are some warblers in there or something.”
“BO-ring!,” I thought to myself, and continued on my way.
However, as I rode, I thought more about the people assembled around the tree, and how like them we bike dorks must seem to everyone else, quibbling over the sort of inconsequential minutiae the ordinary person would be hard-pressed to even notice or give a shit about, much less understand. Similarly, all I saw up in that tree were what appeared to be a bunch of garden-variety sparrows, but in fact they represented a dazzling array of migratory birds whose seasonal layover in the park is clearly a source of delight and fascination for many people.
Living in a big city can test your patience with other people, but it can also endear you to humanity. The world can be a source of infinite beauty and joy, and as you make your way through a city like New York you see all sorts of people extracting a little bit of delight from it in their own way. You see people standing around trees gawking at birds, standing next to bodies of water waiting for the fish to bite, foraging for plants, throwing balls, running, practicing martial arts, painting landscapes… We each focus in on our little piece of the tapestry to the extent that the rest of it can seem inscrutable, but even if we can’t understand that which is outside of our purview, we can at least appreciate the manner in which it resonates with others by observing their enjoyment of it.
As someone whose purview is the bike I generally experience my moments of appreciation while riding around, but it can happen anytime–even when I’m engaged in the morally reprehensible act of driving. A couple of months ago, on a Friday afternoon, I parked THE CAR THAT I OWN BECAUSE I FINISHED PAYING BACK THE FASCIST BULLY BOYS AT THE BANK on a Manhattan street. When I returned a few hours later I found that I was blocked in by an empty double-parked vehicle with TLC plates. (That’s basically a taxi or an Uber for you non-New Yorkers.) As I stood there wondering what the hell to do and clutching a bag full of Taco Bell® takeout that was going colder by the second, I noticed more and more TLC drivers double-parking and leaving their vehicles behind. So I approached one of the drivers, pointed out that I was stuck, and asked what was happening.
“Oh, he’s probably praying,” the driver replied, indicating the mosque across the street I had completely failed to notice.
So I stood there leaning against my car in the fading evening light, surrounded by abandoned taxis, and instead of feeling inconvenienced I marveled at how these drivers–much maligned by the advocacy set for blocking lanes and so forth but probably some of the hardest-working people in the city–take time out from their workday no matter how busy they are and pause in order to re-align themselves with the universe. I also decided that, by effectively trapping me, this was the universe’s way of telling me that instead of trying to wriggle my way out of the situation I should take a little time out myself and do the same thing. I realize it sounds crazy to call a bunch of double-parked cars beautiful, but in a way it was, and I stood there in a state of contentment until one by one the drivers returned to their cars, the seas soon parted, and I was on my way home.
This revelation has been brought to you by Taco Bell®:
As for the birds, you may or may not have heard this one:
Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the filed, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you–you of little faith?
Don’t get all hung up on the “heavenly Father” stuff, it’s just a lyrical reminder that we all need to relax, and it’s as true now as it ever was. If it helps, just think about it as an endorsement of riding in jorts once in awhile. For as it is written in the Book of Fred: “When the mind is open, the sphincter will follow.”