Hope is a Feathered Thing

Hope is the thing with feathers t
hat perches in the soul,
 and sings the tune without the words, 
and never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;
 and sore must be the storm
 that could abash the little bird
 that kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land, 
and on the strangest sea;
 yet, never, in extremity, 
It asked a crumb of me.

Emily Dickinson

A few weeks ago I witnessed a miracle.

No, really, I did.

While running along the Willamette River in Portland’s Waterfront Park, a flock of seagulls (not the punk group; the kind with feathers and wings) scavenged for food several yards ahead. From the neck of one of the birds a plastic grocery bag dangled in the sight breeze like a cape.

In 2011 Portland’s city council outlawed the use of plastic grocery bags by retailers for environmental reasons. This sea gull’s plight illustrates one.

The bag was a death sentence. Besides scavenging, gulls feed by dipping for small creatures from the river, and this action will fill the bag with water. When the bag becomes heavy enough, it will sink below the river’s surface and drown the gull.

From habit, my nurse’s brain searched rapidly for an intervention. Briefly, the ludicrous image of me somehow restraining the bird and removing the bag flashed by, but before I was completely convinced of this impossibility, the birds took flight and landed on the river including the unfortunate gull with the plastic bag cape fluttering behind.

“Oh no,” I thought.” I’m going to watch the poor bird drown.” Mesmerized the way people become when they can’t avoid watching a train wreck I stopped running and leaned against the rail of the sea wall, following the bird with my gaze.

The gull bobbed on the river’s current, the plastic bag making him easy to spot. He dipped forward and placed his beak beneath the surface of the water. I saw the bag fill, then sink. Pulled down by the weight of it, the gull fought, flapping its wings wildly as it struggled to take flight.

“This is it, I said out loud, though no one else was watching.

But it wasn’t it. Miraculously, the bag slipped away from the gull and he was airborne. I watched the bag, half submerged, float down the river like a malignant cell seeking another victim.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t a miracle, but it felt like one. I had been so sure the gull was doomed.

Maybe the miracle is that I received an object lesson about embracing phenomenon, to stay hopeful, to marvel.

Because hope is a feathered thing.

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