Merlin, the Cornell Lab Bird ID App makes every walk better. Instead of listening to the constant chatter inside my brain, it has me attending to the bird song all around me. At the push of a button, I am recording and the app (and I) are listening, patiently. We wait and wonder together until, like magic, the app produces images of the bird who is singing and calling to me. Or perhaps several suggestions of who it might be. It’s not always sure, but it usually designates a “most likely” candidate.
How cool, I got to wondering, would it be if I had a God ID App. You know, point and record, and my phone tells me whether what I am listening to is God.
Wow. That is rich. Would my phone explode with God-sightings? Yeah, that one and that one, too and that over there and… OR, would I, after waiting a good long while eagerly anticipating the undeniable God-moment, give up in frustration when my App wasn’t able to definitively conclude that God was within hearing. A still small voice is, after all, a very difficult thing to hear. Not sure we can rely on technology to detect it.
Still smiling, I move along the meandering path, phone recorder at the ready. I do not hurry. I am listening. Along the way I greet the dog walkers I pass with what is probably a little more enthusiasm than is called for. The pups seemed especially glad to see me. I excuse myself when, in my attention to the App, I veer a little more on their side than is allowed.
Then, I hear the perfect bird. It’s singing solo up in the branches to my left. I point my phone in its direction, punch up the recording and wait. Northern Mockingbird, it tells me. Wait, it also might be a Brown Thrasher.
Then I see it. Perfectly illuminated in the dense green of the tree. Unmistakable. RED. It’s a male cardinal. I look and listen. I can see the sounds coming from its beak. Its partner flies in to greet it. Female cardinal for sure. Merlin App, you have failed.
Wow. Wonder if I can trust this App at all. Maybe it’s been messing with me all along.
So much for that God App idea. Clearly, these human-made versions are only so good. But, still, there is something about the walking while not hurrying, the listening, the expectation, even the waiting… that all felt pretty darn good. Sort of like an inward glow of positivity. Hopeful. Friendly. Constructive. Creative. Maybe there’s something to this.
Perhaps I don’t need an App at all. Maybe I have all I need, not at my fingertips, but at my disposal. If I wander and listen and wait patiently, love will show up.
I wonder what those dogs saw in me.
The whole world comes alive when the sun rises. One by one, two by two they emerge from east, from west, from every way and every other way, whole flocks together as if a heavenly call has gone out and they're heeding its message. Is it the rays, the light, the glimmer that bids them come? the oranges, reds, the magenta that dazzles and displays? or something else I can't see, can't hear, can't comprehend? Is there a knowing I don't know? A joke I'm not in on? Ashore, I stand mired...heavy...earthen. the only unflighted one of morning. Astonished at their soaring, gliding, joyful shouting, "Here I am!" "Coming!" "Wait for me!" Guzzling the good, good news of morning. What a glorious day has come and is coming when we, weighted and terribly terrestrial loosen our ties and shed the lashing pinning our wings. And, with the rest, come alive in the new day.
Tip-toeing along the forested trail with an early morning group of birders, I marveled at a ray of sun peeking through the canopy and illuminating the brush below. Binoculars at the ready, our small band had stopped to look and listen for the sounds of the small creatures around us. I became instantly aware of my own smallness in the midst of the magnificence of the natural world. There was only silence, but in that silence, I heard this:
You are of inestimable value, but you must diminish in self-importance.
I have to admit, this struck an immediate chord. Even among this little troupe I felt the need to be knowledgeable and capable; thus to demonstrate my value, I suppose. This became particularly and painfully evident to me among these experienced birders who knew much and didn’t feel the need to defend or withhold what they knew. They spotted and identified, not for show, but in order to point it out so that others could see it and learn to recognize it, too.
Bird identification, I have found, is quite a difficult skill. But it is one that can be learned over many hours of practice with a helpful mentor or teacher and a good bird book or two. The fact that you took an ornithology class with Dr. Byrd many years ago at William and Mary is nice but simply has no standing.
Still, in this moment of self-realization, I am also utterly assured of my inestimable value. Can I tell you I teared up a bit at this? It was okay to be less than; in fact, it would be necessary in order to claim my full value.
Shifting gears, here, but stick with me….
Upholding this new perspective on my return from the birding expedition, I felt inclined (nothing to lose!) to email the nationally known cookware retailer from whom I had purchased an expensive Christmas gift but which turned out to have a defective mechanism. We had only now (in May) had the opportunity to try it out and I no longer had the sales receipt, but I felt sure that upon hearing from a valued customer that this expensive item was defective they would surely make it right.
Well, a dozen emails later, including those with photos attached (per their request), the credit card statement indicating the date of sale, purchase price and the sales transaction number (also, requested), they ultimately and summarily declined to replace, repair or credit me for the item. Without a receipt, “they could not help me.” Their final word:
“I wanted to reach back out to you after I was advised by a member of Leadership on your situation. Regretfully, as was relayed to you previously, without proof of purchase we are unable to issue a replacement or a refund. I apologize for any disappointment this may cause. This may not be the answer you were hoping for, but I trust you understand that your request far exceeds our guarantee and return window. Thank you and please feel free to contact us with any other questions. ~ Warm regards, Heather M., Customer Service
Warm regards, eh? But yes, I was asking them to forgo their usual policy in a gratuitous act of kindness and generosity they were not prepared to offer. I did now own $145.00 worth of beautifully hand-crafted Italian wood salt and pepper shakers that are completely useless. They made it clear that I have no right to ask for special exceptions; I am not that important.
And fortunately, having just embraced both my inestimable value and my need to diminish in self-importance, I was able (barely) to quench my desire to shoot back an email to this customer service representative threatening never to shop at this store again and to tell my friends the same and to post this on FB and twitter and perhaps contact the Better Business Bureau. As you can see, my dark, self-important side gave it a good run.
The truth is: the store was within their rights to deny my request. The bigger truth is: doing what you have the right to do isn’t always the right thing to do.
The newly humbled me did send a conciliatory email reply, thanking Heather M for looking into this for me and assuring her that next time I would try out my purchase right away and be sure not to misplace the receipt. Killing them with kindness didn’t get me a refund either.
But whoa, this interchange sure offered me an up-close look at my relationship with my own self-importance (aka pride) and how it can control me. I am not so important that I can make demands or expect special consideration. My ability to spend does not earn me extra attention. My status does not earn me exemption from the rules or excuse me from honoring the stated policy.
And while we’re at it, the One who established my value seemed to say, you are not too important to clean toilets or change diapers. Nor to do the dishes and take out the trash. Nor to teach special needs children, nor university students nor be President. Your value is, and must by rights be, separate from all these things. My sole responsibility in all circumstances is to do my part. My opportunity: to live the life I’m capable of. My calling: to do it all without drawing attention to myself. God is good with that.
When I am keenly aware of my inestimable value which cannot be diminished by any earthly thing, I don’t waste time buffing up my importance or defending it to others. I am nothing and that’s the starting point for everything.
Now I have a pair of useless salt and pepper shakers as a daily reminder. Maybe I’ll take them apart and see if I can get them to work right. Got nothing to lose.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”Luke 14:7-11