I pack the car, pick Tim up from the train station and we head up to my sister’s for the weekend. Along the way a bird, pecking at something on the road, continues to peck as if oblivious to its almost certain death. I remain poised as we drive ever closer, knowing with calm assurance that it will fly out of the way.
We arrive in time for morning tea. This is a regular ritual: every Saturday morning Debbie and her husband get together with a group of friends for a cuppa and a chat at a local cafe.
Tim and I are well known to this group of my sister’s friends. We have spent a number of Saturday mornings drinking tea and chatting, as if we too were their friends.
I have done this my whole life: latched on to my sister’s friends rather than making my own. I find it easier that way – Deb does all the work of making and keeping friends and every now and then I pop along and have conversations with them as if they are my friends as well.
Many years ago, when we were in primary school Stacey, one of Debbie’s friends, invited her on an outing to the beach. Somehow I wrangled an invitation too. Even then, I didn’t have friends of my own, preferring to hang out with my sister and her friends. [I don’t think Deb was as in favour of this arrangement as I was.]
As Stacey’s Dad drove us all to the beach, we sat in the back chatting, and laughing at nothing in particular as eight and nine year olds do. I nearly jumped out of my skin though when Stacey suddenly screamed, Dad, slow down. Please, Dad, don’t hit it!
Was there a person on the road, I wondered? A baby perhaps? Maybe a kid had fallen off his bike and was stumbling bleeding down the centre of the road. It must have been something momentous for Stacey to react like that, I thought.
It was a bird.
But Stacey’s Dad slowed down, the bird flew away unscathed, and we continued calmly to the beach.
To say that I was impressed with this interaction between father and daughter would be a mammoth understatement. Stacey had been able to influence her father’s behaviour in, if not exactly an hysterical way, a decidedly dramatic fashion! Stacey’s father, the man who had built the house we lived in, a big burly man who bossed others around for a living, took notice of what his nine-year-old daughter had said.
I sat with this racing and rolling around in my mind for the rest of the drive to the beach. Once we arrived it flew straight out of my mind of course because there were sandcastles to build and shells to collect to make a number eight with (eight was my favourite number that year).
But the episode lingered in my mind, swirling beneath the delight of being at the beach with people who weren’t my family.
The following weekend, I was again on my way to the beach, this time with my own family. A bird was on the road up ahead. I hesitated, then decided to go for it.
Dad, I screamed, slow down. Please don’t hit it!
Dad didn’t slow down.
It’ll move, he said, in that quiet, dry way he has. And it did.
I learnt a lesson that day. I still ponder about what that lesson was even after all these years of working it over in my mind. I think I learnt a number of lessons actually: lessons about emotional responses, pragmatic thinking, the capacity to influence behaviour (or not), and other things I still can’t articulate.
But it meant that when I saw the bird on the road yesterday morning I just knew that there was no need for histrionics.
We drew ever closer, and I heard my Dad again: it’ll move, and at the very last moment the bird flew lazily away.
Thanks Dad … I think.