A trip into nature taught me I could love something new.
I was six years of age, on a carefully-planned, permission-slip-OK'd excursion to a local farm.
Once off the bus, we were taken to a barn where there was a big iron circle that held lots of yellow things that moved.
The place where they huddled was golden. A tall man, wearing jeans, picked up a chick and taught me how to hold it gently in my hand, its belly supported by my small palm, tiny legs extended through the cracks between my fingers.
The chick looked up at me, chirped and chatted. I looked closely at its small face, its round, black eyes, studied how my breath softly rustled the yellow down on its head.
I knew then that this was a remarkable thing. I understood I could love something foreign to my current realm of knowing. That I could embrace a creature, or place, outside my family.
I sat there holding the chick while the others petted goats and stared at cows, climbed on hay bales, and laughed at the mud of pigs.
I simply listened and watched the tiny bird, cupping it like a gift. I imagined raising both hands to the sky, like the priest did at Mass, holding the chick up towards forever.
When it was time to go, a teacher was summoned to help convince me to release the chick, to let the man in jeans put it back where it belonged, with its kind, with the others.
I cried into the warmth of my teacher's coat as she patiently held me, waiting for the end of my upset before mixing me with the other kids for the trip back to school.
I stared out the window of the bus on the road back, leaned my face against the hard, soon-to-be-winter-cold window. I had held something unique in my young hands, a lesson that was warm, yet raw.
It was the first time I realized that life was about discovery, and also, became aware of its dichotomy. That if I wanted to get at life, I couldn't let any of it hold me back.
So, as time continues on, there are still remarkable things.
* My friend Phyll paints beautiful portraits of people. We have known each other over thirty years, and I never knew she loved to paint. Last year I stood in The Getty Center in Los Angeles and looked for a very long time at a painting called Portrait of Jeanne Kefer by Belgian artist Fernand Khnopff. It reminded me of a lovely, simple painting Phyll created of her granddaughter Claire.
* My mother had a beautifully-shaped head. I did not discover this until she was diagnosed with brain cancer, and lost her hair due to radiation treatments. My mother became a child again in the last days of her life, eating small green grapes from a white bowl held for her, turning her beautiful head to look at the remainder of her world with the utmost wonder.
* My old Labbie Margaret slipped and fell into a quick-rushing river in the western mountains of Virginia. Doug, without a thought, without considering that Margaret was old and past her time, that he had just spent $300 on a new pair of hiking boots, simply jumped in the water, and dove, and dove again until he found the old black dog who was struggling for air in the dark, swirling water, and hauled her safely to shore.
* In Burgdorf, Idaho, I heard an elk cry out, to "trumpet" some message into the cold, clear night. I thought it was a train, the sound so powerful. We were camped on top of a mountain that evening, with a glorious view of the curved sky, a spiral arm of the Milky Way, with stars so big and bright and numerous. Seeing our breath as we sat in the center of the globe of the world.
from the book Driving Mystic by Mary Gillen
Excerpt of chapter "Remarkable Things"
Publication Date: June 2011
© 2011 Mary Gillen
The Proud Mother Hen and Chicks 1852, by John Frederick Herring. Found at 1st-art-gallery.com
Portrait of Jeanne Kefer, 1885. Fernand Khnopff, Belgian, 1858-1921. The Getty Center, Los Angeles, CA