Bird song and beliefs that work
By Janice Lindsay
He starts singing around 4:30 a.m., his voice high and sweet. He chirps atop a tree at the edge of the woods, hidden from my view. His melody is complex: a short warble, a trill, a longer warble, another trill, a third warble. It lasts five or six seconds. He waits for a song length, then begins again.
He can sing for two hours.
Most daytime birds wake up around sunrise and offer a few refrains that amount to, “Good morning, I’m still here, go about your business, I’ll go about mine.” Then they stop.
But my persistent little friend has apparently determined that the sun will not rise, and life as we know it will cease, unless he sings until everybody is up and on their way. And, from his point of view, he is right. He sings, the sun rises, the world goes on.
Maybe my little friend is not so different from you and me. Don’t we all believe that if we do a certain thing in a certain way, all will be well? If I wear my lucky socks, I’ll win the game. If I leave my sunglasses behind while walking on a showery day, the sun will come out.
I am reminded – and here I must be a bit more indelicate than I usually am in these columns – of red underwear.
I learned to drive a car, with an automatic shift, in my early 20s. I didn’t learn to drive a standard until more than a decade later. At that time, I needed a new car. A Honda Civic with five speeds would be an economical choice, and on icy roads I would have more control than in an automatic. (This was before cars became smarter than drivers.) I ordered the car before I knew how to drive it. Suddenly, the question was no longer hypothetical.
I practiced with my husband’s five-speed Nissan. But I could not, on a regular basis, manage the eye/hand/foot coordination necessary to inspire the car to achieve a state of continuous forward motion. One afternoon, I had to drive to Boston and decided to practice with the Nissan. On the Mass Pike, I approached a toll booth. I stopped behind the line of cars. The cars in front of me moved. I tried. The Nissan jumped forward, lurched to a stop. The others moved again. I repeated my embarrassing performance. Finally, half-a-dozen car lengths lay, empty, between me and the toll booth. The operator left the booth and strolled over to the car. He said, “I tell you what. You pay the toll here, then when you get it started, you can sail right through.” I did, and I did.
That was it. I determined such a thing would not happen again.
I remembered my red underwear. I will not describe garment details, and I don’t remember how I had acquired red underwear, which I rarely wore. I thought, “If I wear my red underwear, I will feel like Wonder Woman. I will be courageous and in control. The car will respect that and respond accordingly. I will nail this thing.”
The gears on the Honda were in different positions than those on the Nissan, so I had to learn coordination all over again. But I was no longer hesitant. The Honda sensed my confidence and behaved. The red underwear had done its job.
So I don’t laugh at my little avian friend for believing that if he sings for two hours, the world will continue to spin. Those beliefs work. We all know it.
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