On the night December’s super moon was due to reach its fullness just after midnight where I live, a solitary bird started singing in the indigo darkness of my garden at exactly 22:55; and so loud that I could hear it over my music playing.
The sky had been thickly clouded all night; no sign of that big moon rising, though I felt it profoundly. Somewhere in the tree that I could barely see in relief against the dark sky, a robin was singing so sweetly, and not just a short trill as birds sometimes do an hour before dawn but a long, continuous melody that ebbed and flowed with peaks, troughs and powerful pauses that had you breath-held poised waiting for him to resume.
This, I knew, was “my” robin; the one I affectionately call Junior who fledged in our garden and spent a day sat in my dog’s bed on the patio or wandering around in the shade of our flowerbeds until he worked out how to fly. On that summer’s day, when I felt like a proxy parent watching over him, he and I formed some sort of connection…him sat just four feet away in a fleecy blanket watching me as I pottered around or read my book. Now (and I’m sure its him) a regular visitor to the bird-box on my window, with me just a couple of feet away on the other side of the glass where I paint, we lock eyes for long moments; me holding my brush in mid air, him sat statue-still as though dropped into meditation before resuming his peck peck at the seed. Almost without fail, he sings for a few minutes, in the same tree where I was now hearing him, about an hour after sunset while I prepare the dimmer and, again, first thing in the morning, like today when he accompanied me on my yoga mat just before light.
So (on a cold December’s night) I stood on the patio, or sat inside with my door open, for the whole of this performance which went on and on, for about an hour, petering out just before the moon reached its zenith at 12:05. Slowly but surely, I started to notice the faint echo of more birds in other gardens joining in, an ethereal backing chorus to this one single voice who had broken ranks to give lungs to this startling sound when all birds are meant to be sleeping. He had set a new precedent and now they were all starting to join in, adding voice after voice as though drawing out a sound-map of the position of every nearby garden, though I could only – barely – see my own. It was like seeing with your ears; a sense of form and space mapped in song against the pitch darkness until a pure white light that had been forming above the rooftop was ever-increasingly drawn out of cover.
Because, by now, the cloud mass had begun to break-up and to separate, dissolved into wisps. The newly appeared and dazzling moon looked like it was racing through a cotton-wool landscape or materialising and dematerialising in the centre of a flower that just kept emerging, throwing new petals out of its own void. It was like watching the universe take shape; something birthed out of nothing and, all the time, this sweet monologue of bird song, the seventh dimensional sound that was once the “word” that birthed it all. What made this song so powerful, so compelling, so “stop right there” in my tracks in order to hear every note of it, for all the night was bitterly cold? It was like I was receiving a download, a melodious morse code, that some aspect of myself was busily deciphering. What was so compelling was that its pure beauty came out of darkness; was this incongruous melody that cut through the blankness as though asserting “I choose to make from all this dark potential THIS”.
So it is in our own lives. I’m noticing so many people – individuals, groups – who feel like they are contending with dark times right now, like they are going into the “big dark” of a cycle’s nightime portion and yet, as this tiny bird had just reminded me, the very darkest portion of the night can always deliver surprises. Ironically, I feel like I’m either coming out of my darkest portion or learning to deal with it so differently that it just doesn’t feel the same anymore, from the inside out (which is the only place that matters). What those times showed me was that I sang most sweetly from the very heart of what felt darkest of all in recent years; I found my clearest voice in there and it carried even further for being uncluttered by distraction and for being the audacious or unusual response to what I was supposedly “in”. People noticed me, and I noticed myself, more for the fact I was handling my circumstances a whole new way. I see the same thing happening right now in the life of a dear friend who, according to outside labels and other people’s stock reactions, all those well-meaning but learned criteria people habitually use, is in her own dark place and yet I never saw such obvious light-in-action. The so called “dark” is just the canvas that she is painting on (just as I always start with a dark primer before I paint…) in order to express herself more clearly. She’s making “new” out of all the preconceived ideas around her situation, birthing her own clear song which is all the more startling and pure for the fact it comes out of the unexpected, like crystal-clear birdsong at midnight.
That bird wasn’t making a plaintive or desperate sound under the moon like he had been startled awake by a trick of the light; he wasn’t being made a fool or getting anything wrong for being in this dark place. Rather, he seemed to know (as some of us do) that the song we came to sing rings out more pristine, more powerfully in the dark. Taking his cue from what felt most resonant to it – that brilliant moon, albeit half hidden by cloud to begin with – he took that opportunity to speak his own truth, to reinvent what is “normal”. A timely example for us all to consider whenever we head into undefined territory (which is all the dark really is); the undefined isn’t inherently scary, its really just purest potential waiting to be “sung” which ever way we see fit. “I’m in the dark” is considered synonymous with being clueless, knowing nothing and, like I played with in my recent post (I just don’t know), that confusion can be the most powerful starting-point of all, a launching point for the next most powerful thing we get to realise.
What a beautiful experience that night song must have been Helen!
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