I remember walking home after school on a crisp, spring evening, my ears full of the sounds of people and cars on their way home, birds calling out as they wrapped up the day's nesting. I had walked this path a hundred times over, which meant that I barely registered events around me ... I was probably chewing on thoughts related to my work, or maybe my crush of the month. In an instant, the sounds around me changed sharply, jerking me out of my thoughts. I saw a Cooper's hawk streak into the air past me, chased by a starling. That image made very little sense, as the hawk is almost twice the size of the starling. The fighters circled the tree I was standing near, and I finally saw it: the hawk had another starling clasped in its talons. Likely the mate of the starling chasing it since starlings are monogamous.
I was transfixed, horrified by what I saw. I could barely breathe, I was petrified. My mind was clumsily stumbling, searching for what I could do to change the situation. I couldn't fly up there. I couldn't throw anything up as high. I couldn't reason with either of the birds. I saw the hawk disappear out of sight, with the distraught starling close at its heels. Other birds in neighboring trees had joined in the agitated scolding as well. All I could do was join in the screaming, which I did: a scream that started in my legs and left my mouth, but not as a single sound. It left my body much as it felt inside - the sound of a bird being ripped apart, a sound that left my throat raw for days after.
This evening has stayed with me for years since. My heart bled for the starling, who lost its mate, but also for the hawk, who had probably hunted to feed its fledglings. This is the circle of nature, of life, after all, and no one is exempt from it. I was very unsettled by how explosive my emotions had been. As we all do, I have experienced my share of landmark events that shape and mould us, allow us to learn about ourselves as we deal with crises and victories. (I've also had my share of the more uncommon ones, if you consider escaping from a war and living as a refugee). But that evening made a mark on me as strong as the others did.
As a scientist, I could rationalize the reasons behind why the two birds behaved as they did. The hawk was taking the risk for the sake of its offspring, the starling had to address the loss of its mate and to its own future. As a person who is able to love, however, I was devastated, and I have understood why better with each passing year. Most of my life has involved developing the control of my emotions, and it sometimes takes dramatic events such as these to realize their depth and range. I have made the mistake of confusing control with hiding, which often meant not expressing my love for others the way I truly desired. The luxury of my 30s has been a loving and gentle introspection, studying my present and past self to better enjoy my future self.
This is perhaps why I love birds and nature so. My feathered brethren always teach me a valuable lesson, some of which I don't learn as easily from my fellow humans. I find it easier to slip into myself when I'm out watching birds, and I enjoy taking back some of myself to my loved ones and sharing it with them. For years, I would blindly prescribe myself a walk to watch birds, as a reset. Now, I have understood: I do so because I love them, I remember clearly what loving means, and bring that back into my world.