I had just finished a performance for an assembly of teens at an all girls Catholic School in the La Molina District of Lima, Peru. It went over amazingly well. I always try to balance my presentations with wit, humor and just enough surreptitious instruction that the audience isn’t even aware it is happening. I was proud of my performance this day. The feeling of accomplishment that one gets when your work is completed and you have given your all is exactly what I was experiencing.
The messages I attempt to leave each and every audience with are: “self-awareness is key to discovering your life’s purpose,” “remembering and respecting the sacrifices of those in your past is not only important, but a prerequisite to understanding your place in the world,” and, finally, “a reverence and deep respect for the culture of other peoples is the only worldview that will build tomorrow’s, much needed, global community.” I take these concepts seriously and reiterate them throughout every presentation.
I know the theme of my performances sound rather heavy but music and storytelling have a way, like sugar, of helping the medicine go down. Of course it would be a healthier brand of sugar that I am dispensing.
So I finish the performance, put away my instrument and pack away all of my gear. My tour manager and I head out to the reception area with the school’s coordinator. It was such a calm, serene feeling walking through this pristine campus of delicately placed flora and fauna, meticulously manicured lawns and trees with branches bursting with color. As we navigated the pathways leading to the reception area, we passed classrooms, offices and the like. My ego definitely got a bit of a booster shot as we heard children yelling my name and calling for my attention. They were literally begging me to look in the direction of their respective classrooms to acknowledge each of the smiling faces, and enthusiastically waving hands.
As we were entering the rear door of the reception area I looked up into a tree and saw an unusual bird. I can’t tell you what type of bird, something that looked like a cross between a parakeet and a sparrow. It was luminescent, stunningly breathtaking (well, to me anyway). The bird’s dominant color was a deeply, evenly toned, yet vibrant red. Thin lines of black seemed to have been painted on areas of its body as to highlight its beauty. It was in that moment that I, you might say, quite literally, lost my mind. I reached into the backpack of equipment I keep with me wherever I travel for my still camera. The entire time I was reaching for the camera I was keeping my eyes focused up into the tree on the bird. My lack of attention to the immediate task at hand, retrieving the camera, had me fumbling for it clumsily. My eyes were locked onto the beautiful red flier in the tree above my head. I finally managed to get the camera out of the backpack. I hit the power button, aimed and took a quick shot. I always do this with birds because you never know if that one shot will be the only one you have a chance to get. Birds have a tendency to not be the best at posing for pictures.
I was right. Within seconds it lifted off, flew away and alighted to another tree at the other end of the campus.
As I was watching it fly away, my feet, involuntarily, began to follow. There was no thought given to my actions other than, “maybe I can get one more shot.”
I was now, mindlessly, running across the campus’ lush green lawn, leaping over small bushes and avoiding near collisions with statues of various female saints. All of this for the sake of capturing another image of this tiny creature’s radiance.
The bird rested on a leafless branch. Quickly, while still in motion and not focusing, I snapped another shot off. To my surprise, it remained on the branch a little while longer, just long enough for me to get two more pictures. I was delighted! Excited!
It then took flight again, back in the direction of the tree across campus where I had originally spotted it, and, once again, my feet, without permission, took chase. I didn’t think about it until much later (and I felt really bad about this when I did finally think about it) but, I was trampling all over this school’s painstakingly manicured grounds. All of this for the sake of capturing, like some sort of an addict, “one” more shot, just “one” more.
The bird began to feign flight away from the tree, stop mid-air and then, just when I would start running in its direction, abruptly alter its flight pattern and return to the tree. It did this several times, each time returning to a different branch. It had me starting and stopping, changing directions attempting to chase it. It was at this point that I had the epiphany, “This little bird is toying with me!” I was being made to dance like a puppet on a string.
While running, I watched as it took to the highest branches of the tree. “Wonderful!” I thought to myself, “That is a shot easily captured if I can get close enough.”
I did have one redeeming moment of clarity during this “narrow minded performance of me” for the world. As I was running, I began pulling the camera up towards my face with the intention of focusing the shot while in motion to avoid losing any time during which the bird might fly away again. I am very proud to say that I lowered the camera, realizing that I was headed towards an inevitable tumble over a bush or face plant into one of the awaiting trees.
When I reached the tree, to my surprise, it remained seated in that one spot. There was the most enchanting, blue sky as a backdrop to its perch. It was posing! This bird was actually posing for me! In my excitement, I had lowered the camera and was just standing there staring at it. The thought of potentially losing the shot woke me from my stupor. I fumbled to get my camera in place, and focused. I took my time in this moment and did not rush. I was willing to take a chance that I might not capture the paralyzing image before me. It remained stationary as I zoomed in. I inhaled deeply and then exhaled as I took the shot. I got it! I actually got the shot I wanted! Hysteria took possession of me and I felt an overwhelming “need” to dance. I’m not sure if I did or not, but a celebratory dance was definitely emanating from somewhere deep inside of me in that moment.
I laughed to myself as I slowly came back down to reality. I had captured enough shots and didn’t want the universe to see me as greedy. I stood there staring up at the bird.
The voices of the children yelling my name from surrounding classrooms re-entered my ears. Had they been screaming this whole time? How was it that I had not heard them?
I heard a child’s faint voice ask in Spanish, “¿Que hace Baba (What are you doing Baba?)”
I looked down and, just below the height of my hips were three little girls, maybe 4 or 5 years old. Their leader, there is “always” one who is the leader, was staring up at me while I remained fixated on the bird above. How long had they been standing there by my side? I couldn’t tell you. She asked again, “¿Que hace Baba?”
She had that curious, perplexed look that children get when the world isn’t quite right and they need an adult to set things straight for them.
I pointed up into the tree and explained, “Trato de capturar la belleza de ese pajarro allá arriba en el árbol (I”m trying to capture the beauty of that bird up there in the tree).”
The three of them giggled and then ran off in the direction of the classrooms.
The three little wise ones had helped to lift the cloud of narrowed focus that had temporarily blinded me to my surroundings.
As I turned to go back towards the reception area, I realized that I had had an audience. There were children in classrooms with their faces pressed against the windows looking out and yelling, “Baba! Baba! Baba…”
A couple of nuns were standing at the far end of one of the walkways, just standing, observing as you would imagine nuns doing. My tour manager, a few teachers on break and our school contact stood over to the side, all eyes on me, each face possessing pleasant, unreadable, smiles.
Without warning, the self-conscious side of my mind kicked into full gear, “oh my goodness, what must these people think of me?”
For a moment, and only for a slight moment, I was embarrassed. I did my best to put my self-conscious self back to sleep with gentle, repeated lullabies of, “Life is meant to be lived.”
Even if I could, I would not change a thing about what had occurred. Never does a picture capture the brilliance and beauty of what is before us in life but, at least, I’ve got something to share with all of you.