Friday, August 9, 2013

On an Island


Sitting on the back deck of our vacation rental in Nantucket, I hear two birds in call and response:

“Cheep”
“Cheep”

“Cheep”
“Cheep”

A moment or two passes.

“Cheep”
“Cheep”

At one point the first calls out and there is no response. And he cheeps again. And again. Then finally after a curious several moments his mate responds.

Are they holding some conversation? Recounting last night’s events? Planning their day? Flirting? Or is it an instinctual signal to let them each know the other is near by. Safety in numbers.

What kind of bird is it? I have to know. I want to know. I should know. Even though I live in the inner suburbs, I pride myself with being in touch with nature. I have 4 bird feeders in the yard and can name off a number of our regular winged friends. I like to go hiking and camping. And I am a life member of the Sierra Club for crying out loud.

But I don’t know these birds. They are probably common on the island and anyone with any island cred would know what the bird is by sound only.

“Ah, yes, that’s probably a Bay-breasted Warbler,” the local would say.

“Wahblah,” would be how it’s pronounced. Bay-breasted Wahblah.

At least that’s what I imagine would be the conversation of the old-timer passing on his years of local knowledge to me, the outsider, trying to fit in and fit in by knowing just enough local knowledge and lore to sound intelligent and that I belong. Belong here on this island I’ve never been to before.

We are here with friends (family of 4) who rented a house for the week along with his sister and her family of 4. We were graciously invited and with our 4 we have 12 in the house (and at one time 16 when other friends visited for the day). It’s interesting, and sometimes amusing, and sometimes infuriating, watching the 6 kids (or 8) – ages 8 to 13 – negotiate on, well, just about everything. What to dig in the sand, who gets the shovel first, who is ‘it,’ who gets to deal the cards first, and so on. Then new games are created and there is the lengthy debate on the rules, and then new rules to the original rules, and how to apply a new rule and what is fair or not fair. It will be a real shame if none of these children become lawyers or judges. But with their game playing is the constant inner-battle of being included in the game or not, getting to set the rules or not, and being in position to be successful or not.

When I look back at my own childhood I don’t remember any of that. At least I don’t remember it the way I see it in my children and with the children they play with. But I’m certain that if I asked my parents, “was I REALLY like that?” they’d just shake their heads and roll their eyes in disbelief. And none of us became lawyers either.

Fareness. Rules. Fitting in. None of that really changes. Not much. I’m almost 47 and still aware of where I fit in and don’t. Whether on this island, at work, church, in my neighborhood, and so on. I remember after Amy died suddenly being aware, very aware, that I was no longer part of a married couple. My self-identity as a married person was taken away and there were times, in social situations, when I’d be the only person without a mate. In addition to feeling the terror and grief of her death, I was confronted with an additional question – did I still belong?  My identify as a “husband” had disappeared. What did that mean?

My older son is entering middle school. He seems socially adept. At least more so than I was at his age.  Or maybe it’s just a father’s wishful thinking that he’ll both a) worry less about fitting in, and b) fit in better. For me, it was the time when I first remembered having to figure out the social rules for inclusion. It wasn’t easy.

I have the advantage of 35 years of hindsight and the awareness that middle school and high school is awkward for most of us. It wasn’t just me. Strangely we all fit in in our collective desires to be part of the group. That’s my grown-up interpretation that I now file alongside the memories of that socially awkward time. And I probably fit in better than I thought. For now, here, on this island, I’ll just listen to the birds, whatever they are. Sounds like they have it all figured out.

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