When my children were infants, there was a phrase that promised a bright new future. As the newborn raised the cry that might mean “Hungry!” or might mean “Lonely!” or might mean “Dirty!” or might mean “Carry me around in circles!” or might mean “I’m tired and I don’t know what else to do!”, I would dream of a new era. Not the era in which they could tell me, “Want food” or “Want snuggle” or “Want clean diaper” or “Want up” or “Want to know what to do” – though that would have been helpful.
No, I longed for the day when my son, and later my daughter, could self-soothe.
It might be the most precious of human learnings. The world hands us lemons much of the time, not lemonade. We live amidst a downpour of discomforts. Hunger, loneliness, sticky stuff on skin, boredom, and simple frustration don’t disappear because we grow up. They are simply the earliest of many discomforts. Falls bring bruises. Experiments sometimes end in failures. Games result in losses as well as victories.
Coping with all that, finding ways to self-soothe, is a foundational human skill, and it gives birth to a plethora of other human skills. Food preparation relieves hunger. Social skills relieve loneliness. Bathing relieves stickiness (and prevents sickness). Gaining a height may relieve a particular yearning. Knowing oneself may relieve the frustration of indecision.
One of the most important things I’ve done in moving to an unfamiliar place, where I knew very few people on arrival, is finding ways to self-soothe. To find refreshment. To obtain comfort.
There are places I go to find a stillness that soothes. The sight of ocean waves rolling in, and hissing back out, reaches someplace deep within and fills me where I’m empty. The summit of Kilauea, where volcanic gasses float into the sky, transformed by molten rock below into a scarlet plume, awes me.
And lately, I’ve found, the sight of one small bird gives a comfort I’d never expected.
It’s called a kolea – or in English, the Pacific Golden Plover. It spends the summer in Alaska, where it wears a stunning plumage of silver and black. In the fall, it takes wing for Hawai’i, making the 3,000 mile trip in three or four days without stopping. It dons a new plumage of speckled sand and cream. They tend to return to the same place, spearing bugs from sandy beaches and plucking them from rockier coastlines. They’ll winter in house backyards as well.
And, it turns out, on the lawns of churches.
There’s a kolea that lives here, at Church of the Holy Cross. I don’t see it every day – I don’t see it every week, because I suspect it seeks its food up and down the street here – but when I do, I can feel every muscle relax. My breath falls gently down into my lungs.
Because a kolea feels comfortable enough to call my neighborhood home.
I have to say that this kolea is not an easily startled bird. It keeps a wary eye on preschool children at their top speed, but will hop away only when it’s clear that their games are heading in its direction. As I’m walking along, it will watch me, but hardly change its dedicated search for supper. It seems more concerned about the myna birds than me.
The funny thing is, I’ve never been a bird watcher before moving to Hawai’i. Now some obscure knowledge (I doubt everyone knows the migratory habits of the kolea) brings me comfort, restores my soul.
Thank you, kolea, for this unexpected gift of comfort.
And thank you, Creator, that I’ve learned another means to soothe my soul.