Sunday, December 12, 2010


When I was sixteen I had pneumonia and took to my bed for three weeks in a grand display of malaise. After the first novel day or two it was mostly horrible. My head hurt too much to read, my parents had to work and weren't available for daytime sympathy, and this was in the days before texting - my friends, off gallivanting at high school, were far removed. I couldn't even visit my horse. But, luckily, the Olympics were on. I discovered the rough drama of hockey. I discerned the dynamics of a salchow versus a lutz. I fell a little bit in love with and a lot in envy of a teen-aged skier from some Nordic country that must have had excellent socialized dental services. And I rooted hard for Eddie the Eagle, a ski jumper from England with no chance of placing anywhere near the top of the heap. Everyone rooted for Eddie. He got the most cheering, the most applause, and the announcers' voices changed to cheerful when they mentioned him, which they did often. His jumps were - short. And a little bit heroic. He didn't care that he came in last. He didn't care that his nickname reflected a faint blush of sarcasm. He was thrilled to be there, doing his best, representing his country. Several years later I heard that the qualifications grew more rigorous after those Olympics, and Eddie the Eagle didn't make it on the team for the next round of global games. He wasn't good enough.

One of my boys has that great natural ability required for swinging a perfect arch and making contact - bat or foot - that sends the ball at just the right spin toward whatever spot on the field he wishes. Another of my boys tends to stop mid-stride and spit out his mouth guard to make sure the player he just brushed up against isn't hurt, or upset, or sad. They are both delighted to be part of the team; neither of them is concerned about the varying abilities out there on the junior field. Yet. For their sakes, I wish the Olympics still offered athletes like Eddie, people who are there because they love the game, love the games. A certain type of inspiration is missing from the perfectly calibrated performance machines that now dominate the rink, field, slope, or ring. I miss the men and women who beamed at the crowds as they rounded a turn, who flung ice from their skate after a successful leap. I miss Eddie the Eagle and his delightful lack of talent, his obvious joy at just showing up. I spent three hacking weeks wholeheartedly involved with those winter games, and his is the only name I remember.

A few months ago a patron came into the Library looking for a picture of an eagle. She had recently taken up painting and wanted an image that she could reproduce on her canvas. We went downstairs to find her a book that might have what she was looking for. I could tell that she was unaccustomed to being in the Children’s Room, but we found her a very detailed photograph.(It’s a little known secret, if you want to learn anything—a language, how to knit, the rules for a particular sport or card game—try a kids book.) She left feeling happy, and in fact came back in a few hours to show me her completed masterpiece. She had indeed captured the bird’s regalness and majesty. But more importantly was her sense of accomplishment, which had to do with finding the right inspiration.

I don’t know why she felt the need and sense of urgency to draw that particular bird. I myself have never seen one. I do remember a story a friend once told me about driving along and noticing an eagle soaring in the sky. She quickly pulled over so that she could see it without running the risk of an accident. She said she saw it land on the side of a rocky ledge and thought she glimpsed a nest. Home sweet home.

It’s the nests that always inspire me, made out of anything that can be found: twigs, leaves, bits of ribbon and hair. They provide shelter and warmth; a place for eggs and baby birds. Babies that spend the day peeping and chirping, awaiting the return of a parent with a worm or bug. A nest is the place for the babies to return to as they practice flying, some needing a nudge out to get started. I wish sometimes that I could fly just like that eagle. The closest I have ever been is galloping on a horse, wind streaming through my hair. If I could, I would have opened up my wings and then let go of the reins. Maybe I'm like the baby bird, crashing and crashing to the ground before I get the hang of it, trust myself, and soar.

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