I’d been avoiding the conversation for months. I’d tucked it (and him) into a small, dark corner in the back of my mind. I prefer sometimes to deal with things at the last possible moment: only when I absolutely have to, and usually after I have endured sufficient enough suffering.
I am nothing if not thorough.
I knew I’d eventually be forced to confront my behavior — and my stealthy avoidance of the impact of my choices — eventually. He was patient and said mostly nothing in the months leading up to the long drive we would eventually take when, at night, lit by the hot pink glow of my car stereo, I decided it was finally time.
My little white and gray cockatiel sat beside me on the passenger seat clinging to the bars of his wee cage as we drove — as close as he could possibly get to me. He cocked his head to one side and then the other, listening, interrupting only occasionally to let me know he was still listening, and that he cared very much about what I was saying.
We hadn’t talked in a long, long time. I apologized for that. Through hot tears that made it hard to see, I apologized for a million things that, since I’d been avoiding talking to him at all, I hadn’t realized I needed to apologize for. The biggest of which, of course, was the reason for why he was even in the car with me to begin with: because I, having planned to head out on January 1st to God knows where for God knows how long, could not in good conscience bring along a delicate white-faced cockatiel into freezing temperatures and uncertain environs.
So I was driving out to the breeder where I’d gotten him over seven years prior, knowing they were his best chance of being re-homed with people who would hopefully take good care of him, and hopefully not let let any number of horrible fates befall him — many of which pulsed through my mind: stories of birds having been left out over night in the cold, resulting in a frozen death; stories of birds accidentally being smothered to death by children of careless parents, or hunted by pets of thoughtless pet-owners, or accidentally let loose in a world where a hand-fed, domesticated bird who will actually snuggle with you was ill-prepared for survival.
Heaviest of all, though, was the heartbreaking understanding that if I’d really taken my commitment to this little creature with the holy seriousness he deserved, I wouldn’t be abandoning him to an uncertain fate; I would be finding a home for him — for us — so that I could carry out the responsibility he never asked me to fulfill: one of being his caretaker and protector.
I wish I could say that the weight of that responsibility — and the recognition of my having squandered it, due to his relative low maintenance and lack of complaining — broke my heart sufficiently enough to make me rethink my plans and recommit to protecting that little creature’s well-being… but it didn’t. Not yet.
The next morning, sitting with Puja (whose name means “love offering”) on my shoulder and talking with a dear friend who was around way back when I brought Puja into my life, I wept for the predicament I’d put us in: I was on the precipice of the decision to surrender this tiny creature — and my sacred duty to care for and love him — or else abandon my plans and change direction entirely, all for the sake of a winged animal who weighs maybe three ounces soaking wet.
And then something happened: I reached up with a tentative finger to scratch Puja’s head — something he hadn’t let me do in years — and just like old times, he tucked his little beak in under my nose where he could feel my warm breath on his face, closed his eyes, and let me pet his sweet little head.
I absolutely fell apart, sobbing, and finally said out loud the thing I’d known for all the months I’d considered what it would mean to actually give him up: I don’t want to do it. My friend gave me a knowing and loving gaze, the way people who know you well always know the things you’re too afraid to know yourself, and suddenly, everything was very, very different.
• • •
In all my ponderings about the contents of my character, I’ve not considered myself to be very selfless. In fact (and I say this with some trepidation), I don’t (currently) believe that selflessness as we usually define it is all that praiseworthy; “selfless” is often co-opted by things like Co-dependent and Human Doormat. Though I trust myself to be quite a loving person, the fact remains that I also know myself to be a creature who will pursue my own (sometimes selfish) truth at all costs.
What I had not really considered prior to The Puja Situation was that the pursuit of these “truths” were perhaps not always in my best interest, much less those around me — though I exempt myself from being anyone’s personal savior (mostly). (I have a couple of ex-boyfriends who’d disagree with me, probably.)
The Puja Situation has brought to my attention, though, some of the preconceptions I’ve unknowingly had about myself (and therefore the world), and with them, the realization that they are not actually sound. The Puja Situation is proof that I, for example, am not actually capable of reneging on my responsibility to a tiny, helpless creature who had no say seven years ago in my becoming his mama. In fact, even calling myself “mama” to my pets (Bodhi, my pup, included) has always struck me as kinda weird. But what else is this compulsion to set aside my own desires and impulses in order to care for the lives that are my responsibility… if not motherly?
You guys, it’s a trip. In the days since that morning with Puja — nay, in a matter of moments — my life went from having one cause / course to having one of a completely different nature, and a strikingly different purpose. And those revelations have led to more revelations, which have brought me face-to-face with some of the deepest yearnings of my heart and most unanswered questions about my purpose and placement on this globe.
Honestly, a part of me is even a little weirded out to be writing about this. I mean, I’m changing my life around for a bird?? Dudes, I know. WTF. But as I come here, to this space I have invited you all in, I feel compelled to practice what I preach, which is to say (among many things):
You are allowed to change your mind.
You are allowed to reinvent yourself.
You are allowed to be vulnerable.
You are allowed to tell the truth.
You are allowed to want something honestly, from a deep, primal place — and then to want something totally different with that same fervency 3.5 seconds later.
You are allowed, you are allowed, you are allowed…. to morph into whatever creature it is you are being called from beyond to become. And you are absolutely, without a doubt, allowed to tell the truth about who you are and what you want, and you are allowed to have those things be many, and even contradictory.
Because you know what?
It’s your fucking life.
The sacredness of your life and your choices is not for anyone else to decide or judge or deem worthy or unworthy — and yes: I have moved onto things larger than questions about pet ownership, though pet ownership is not a trivial or unimportant thing. Obviously.
The questions we all come to ask ourselves are, I truly believe, born in a place much larger than us, and certainly larger than the confines of our minds. A while back, I started an experiment just to see what would happen if I meditated for an hour every day for 100 days, and lemme tell ya: the mind is not a place we should place ANY degree of faith.
What we are seeking to discover, I have come to believe, is the Self beyond the small self the mind creates and projects.
We are in search of a holy duty — the purpose for our existence — and for the heart-bursting-open feeling we know in the guts inside our guts is possible.
And I promise you this: it will never be the mind that verifies the importance of your utterly Divine Self, or the calling to which you have been assigned, or the bigger, more creative, more (truly) selfless life you feel compelled to live. The Soul is where the mind comes to die, as it should be. And sometimes, when it seems like things are totally falling apart, they are actually, blessedly, finally falling together.