Lessons learned from my backyard bird feeder

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Opinion: Columns

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Wayne Vanek

Like many of you, I have been reflecting on the shooting in Tucson, Ariz. There has been continual coverage in the media of the strident, polarizing talk in our country.

As I looked out of the kitchen window, I mulled the question whether our nation is splitting apart and falling into rival violence-engendering pieces. There was a brief pause in my racing thoughts, so I noticed the sparrows on the bird feeder. My attention was captured by how cooperatively they took turns, picking at the feed holes, then fluttering to the railing or ground or tree, resting awhile, and then returning for another helping. I had observed over the years that there had been some bullies who pushed their way in front of others, or forced them off the ring. But this morning I was impressed with how seldom that happened.

As I returned to my reflection about the shooting, I considered how the violence stands out and confronts us. Then, the question: Stands out from what? Stands out from the daily, decent, civil, helping, even caring behavior of most of the people, most of the time?

Consider your daily routines of life: The fellow in his SUV cutting you off, the person waiting for her light to turn red before crossing the street, the person in line in front of you whose credit cards don't work, etc., etc., etc. These incidents stand out because most of the people are doing it right. Hundreds of cars coming toward you stay on their side of the middle line. Scores of people move efficiently through the purchase lines. And also there are people who go out of their way to help: A tourist to find the correct street, someone with change for the parking meter, by returning a lost wallet, by picking up trash, by saving your place in line for a minute, etc. etc., etc.

What is that place from which the violence stands out? When I ask myself this question, a scene comes to memory. Don Juan, Carlos Castenedas' Yaqui shaman, who saw shinning lines connecting everything with everything. I wonder if we are all connected in a web of life. These connections are invisible and probably unconscious most of the time, but maybe they guide our behaviors none the less. Yes, we override them sometimes. But, like the birds, we usually act from these connective energies.

You could put whatever name or face on that place of connection I guess. But, as I reflect, I become more certain that there is a place out of which the violence stands out, and I want to be there more.

Wayne Vanek has lived in Oak Park since 1972 and checks his bird feeder often.

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