Pelicans in the Midwest
The chicks died. Eight thousand of them. And you almost died too. You may be
breaking the way so many fragile eggs broke, vulnerable as the bird nation to the
poisons that erode the essential structures of our lives.
It is not enough to grieve, but to know this grief, its cause, its devastation, its
imponderable effects upon everything it touches. We make a poison and cannot
control its spread. It is a power with a mind of its own. It wants to be itself, and
everything it touches dies, quickly in some cases, or over long, long stretches of
time, a human lifetime, or longer, we do not know. And those, like yourself, who
never made the poison, who stand against it, who cast a sacred circle to protect
what is inside, who become the trees against an ill wind, still succumb. We can’t
protect the circle and the wind wasn’t asked where to carry the powder. It wasn’t
asked where to set it down, or how to free itself from what it would never take up
on its own.
What is the choice? To take the grief into ourselves, or to take the poison into
ourselves, or both, on this terrible path we are asked to carve toward a different kind
of knowledge than the kind we have been taught to gather to us and to call power.
Knowledge is power, we were told.
This is not power. Look how the white powder has made a powder of our bones.
Look how the egg dissolves at the slightest tremor. Look how it cannot protect
or sustain what it loves.
The challenge is to become the pelican though we have never entered the territory of
pelican mind. Grief is the shimmering cry that can bind us to each other so exactly
that there will be no distinction between one thought, one being, and another, the
way the pelicans glide together upon the lower breezes and currents in graceful lines
that simultaneously display their acquiescence and their intent.
Like the pelican, we look down at our chicks and watch them die. We observe
helplessly—that is our calling. If we pretend for a moment that there is something
we can do, we will have lost contact with pelican mind. Making this connection,
difficult as it may seem, is what we can do. So then let us observe hopelessly as
they must do. You—I—we must do this. We must be helpless for a long time and
then, afterwards, when we pick up our lives, we will not pick up anything at all that
will do harm. We will not weigh one harm against another, or one creature, or one
species. We will not choose the immediate over the long run or this moment over
the future. We will not choose the lesser of two evils; we will not be expedient or
resigned. We will not.
Such a garment of sorrow you are asked to wear. Such a delicate silk woven from
your own body, your own tears, from a storm of feathers. A strange raiment that
will never be a fashion. Yet, clad this way, you will do everything for these little ones,
our beloveds, your chicks, your babes, now flesh of your flesh. Yes, your babes, their
little lives, your little ones, your own body, your little life, all our little lives.