Ash Wednesday: a Day Late & a Billion Dollars Short
Yesterday, on the first day of the Lenten season, a day when perhaps I should have fasted and prayed to get a good running start on the next 40 days, instead, I hung out with my dad all day, gorged myself on fine catered foods — macaroons, croissants, fresh fruit and cakes — and attended a “collaborative workshop” at the Water Resources Education Center (an amazingly beautiful building!) in Vancouver about the Streaked Horned Lark and Pacific Northwest Airports.
My dad — a retired Air Force and United Airline pilot, now manager of two the county’s small country airports in Toledo and Packwood — attended the workshop to learn more about how the endangered STHL (Oh how the military men love their acronyms!), if found on his runways, could impact his way of doing business.
I went along for the ride because I’m interested in birds.
And how could it not be interesting to listen to The Nature Conservancy, the US Fish & Wildlife and the Audubon people talk to the members of the military bases, the commercial and the general aviation airport personnel about their conflicting, intersecting interests?
Dad told me to let him know when I got bored and we could go. I was in it to the end, interested the whole way — besides, there were cookies.
I sat silent the whole day. I was there to listen, not to talk.
For those of you that know me personally, sitting silent throughout any meeting without putting at least my two cents in is not easy for me to do.
But there, in that place, I was not the expert. My opinion — even if I had had enough knowledge to have one — didn’t matter. I was there to listen and learn.
I had joked with a fellow church member who attended the meeting, as I grabbed my second serving of yogurt topped with raspberries and granola, that perhaps I would start my Lenten fast after dinner tonight.
While I was enjoying the day, I had a lingering guilt hanging over me that left me wondering if I wouldn’t have been better off staying at home, going to the Ash Wednesday service and spending my day in the silence of contemplation.
What I didn’t realize then, and really didn’t come to understand to any depth, not until I sat down to type these very words, was that I had spent my day in silence and in contemplation. I had been reminded of the message of Ash Wednesday: “From dust we came, to dust we shall return.”
The Streaked Horned Lark is a species that has been listed on our state’s endangered list and is listed as state sensitive in Oregon. They have come to reside near airports because an airport provides a prairie-like environment — short grasses, bare ground, open fields — just the kind of place the STHL loves to call home.
The problem is, birds and planes are never a good combination.
A STHL hitting the side of an airliner may be like “bugs on a windshield” (as a military man said) to the 747, but that same little feathered creature sucked into an engine in just the right spot could cause 100s of thousands if not millions of dollars of damage.
And although, honestly, the jet is much more a threat to the bird than the bird is to the jet, part of the problem lies in the fact that if the area around an airport is hospitable to one kind of critter, it’ll attract another and then another kind of critter.
And, as I learned, even if you work to make the habitat inhospitable to one species, you inevitably end up issuing an unintentional invitation to another species. Flood the prairie to get rid of the larks, you’ll invite the geese — and we all know how much a jet engine loves barbecued goose. You jump from the frying pan and into the fire, so to speak.
The point of it all — at least from my point of view — was to be reminded that when we focus too much on the interests of one creature, one person, one issue, we will inevitably leave another creature, person, or issue to suffer from our inattention.
And if we focus out attention, negatively, in eradicating a creature, an idea, a way of being or a person to the exclusion of all else, then something or someone else — something or someone we didn’t want any more than we wanted the first thing — is going to sneak up and sneak in and reside in that spot that we thought we had cleared forever.
Nature hates a vacuum.
You can’t go from having something to having nothing. There is always something there.
And we can’t always choose what it is we have to deal with, but we can always choose how we respond to it. And we can always listen. We can always stop, listen and contemplate what what our next move — even our next mistake (we can’t do without them!) — will be.
It’s very hard to listen while you are talking. That’s why my focus this Lenten season is going to be to shut up and listen. (Stop laughing, those of you who know me in person, I’m serious. :D)
Last year I focused on surrounding myself with silence — turning off the television, unplugging from the noise. This year I am going to try and focus on maintaining the silence within, so I can take in the noise from without.
There is a name to that type of meditative breathing, Diane, where you breathe in the stresses and noise of the world and you breathe out peace and love, I don’t remember it, perhaps you’ll comment and tell us.