Medford, Oregon, May 2, 2015 — Now that I live on Siskiyou Boulevard, next door is a sometime fiesta. That is to say, the Latino family next door has the house on the corner, and apparently a never-ending extended family and circle of friends. So often on a Friday evening there is a gathering with Spanish music and beer. And when one of the children has a birthday … oh, my.
So when I returned from an errand this afternoon, and saw an inflatable tent thing in which children can bounce and fly around, I recognized birthday in progress. Sure enough, around dark, headlights and cars arrived, families spilled out into the pools of light, and now as I go to bed there’s a wonderful party going on next door.
It’s summer, and I have the window open beside my bed, so I can enjoy the party almost as well as if I was there. Past my window, in their back yard, children run, and scream, and yell stories, accusations, laughter, curse words, and insults. In other words, they’re having a good time.
You might think this would disturb my sleep, but it doesn’t. Somehow I like it, and despite the startling loudness and excitement, it’s pleasant and soothing.
I drifted off, smiling, and then …
I drowsily float up from a dream about peanuts and stacks of cash and someone from my past, and dimly come aware that the night has grown old and then new again, the cool softness of the early morning air sifts through the window to touch me, and I hear the birds singing.
How they can see the sun arriving in the still-dark of the coming day, I wonder again, as I have wondered many times before.
And it brings me a memory of a specific day, long ago in college days, and far away in northern Texas. I recall it clearly, remembering in my mind the cheerful sound of birds singing in that long ago warm darkness. The birdsong was the last aftermath of a long and lovely night that I’d spent with a girl named Patty Cake, along with friends John Bennet and Joan, cartwheeling in youthful high-jinks. Patty Cake and I were just falling asleep as the birds awoke and sang to me as we lay beside an open window, and I listened to the birds as I drifted peacefully into sleep.
And now, remembering those birds singing long ago, and hearing the birds singing now — separated by nearly 2000 miles and 50 years — the birds sound exactly the same.
I realize that these birds and those birds are not the same … and yet they are.
I realize that those birds have long passed away, beyond hundreds of generations of bird families. For those birds of long ago have been dust and the dust scattered across the miles and forgotten even by bird families who loved them, long ago and far away.
And yet, it is the same song, from the unseen birds outside now, in their identical bodies, carrying on in the same way, their eager eyes seeing the sun beyond the horizon, their happy voices calling out, to each other, to me.
So I wonder. How those birds so long ago are faraway dust, and yet the song remains.
So … what is truly alive, across time? The birds? Or the song?