Through a string of unexpected events, one of which included having my heart broken by the one I love, I found myself on a sailboat between New York and a small town on the eastern seaboard of the USA, somewhere between Connecticut and Maine and far enough from the coast that all you could see of it was a slender grey stripe on the horizon. My brother the captain of this boat, his wife the first mate, had offered me the opportunity to join the crew indefinitely, as deckhand and third crewman. The ocean seemed like the perfect place to escape and attempt to heal.
On the second day the yacht was sieged by a giant swarm of flies. Perhaps they were flying south to escape the approaching winter, or they were blown out to sea by a rouge wind, regardless of their passage, they now buzzed and crawled all over the vessel. I indulged in a moment of grandiose emotional embellishment by equating this micro-plague to a biblical documentation of my pain (pitiful – but heartache can totally warp your perspective). I certainly was feeling sorry for myself, and what was even more pathetic is that I couldn’t fully appreciate this marvelous situation I had landed in. Living aboard a solar powered yacht, traveling by the power of the wind, and sharing meals with my family who were fellow vegans. My mother even said before I left: “Have you checked your bum for butter? Cause you have certainly landed in it!” Yet right then I couldn’t see my fortune. Even tainted love makes you blind.
Rescued from my self-absorption I heard a sound, as if I was in my garden at home. It couldn’t be? It sounded like robins, sparrows, white-eyes? “This far from land?” I ask myself- “impossible”. Just then I saw a little sparrow swoop down and catch a fly, then another little bird, and then another. Like miniature hawks, equally brave and fearless, they swooped and dived, fattening up on the dark cloud of flies. Then I noticed a small olive bird fluttering towards us across the deep grey ocean, no bigger than a Ping-Pong ball. She seemed so delicate, so fragile, I marveled imagining how her tiny wings got her out this far. She was so brave, confident as she arrived, and quickly made the flies zip around in fear. She was a force to be reckoned with.
I went outside to get a closer look, and to try take a photograph. I admired her bravery; she didn’t even fear me (which I admit didn’t take much I was pathetic sight – a fragile broken man, afraid of his own heartache). There was no time to mope; I stayed close to the action. Suddenly she flew right over me, and landed on my head. For a brief moment, I felt her subtle almost indiscernible weight; I stood tall, feeling immensely proud to have such courage to wear like a crown, even if it belonged to someone else.
Before I took my next breath she whizzed off and pecked a fly straight out of the air as if it was a tack on a pin board. Then she returned and sat on the rope winch beside me, looked up at me and preened her wings, stretched out her legs (I have seen blades of grass thicker than those little limbs). I thought I would try my luck and see if she would eat from my hand. I quickly trapped a fly in the corner of a window (not something a vegan should be confessing to), and held it between my thumb and index finger, I whistled and the little olive Ping-Pong hawk flew without a moment’s hesitation, landed on my wrist and picked the fly from my pinch. Needless to say I spent the rest of the day catching flies and feeding her, and before I knew it, her and I were settling on the deck looking out at the ocean and setting sun while she fluffed up on my shoulder and took a little nap.
In that moment I was cured, not of a broken heart, because I don’t think it was broken to begin with. I was cured of my perspective, one in which my expectations had been broken, and my understanding of relationships and ‘togetherness’ had been broadened. Its seems what I had learned was that courage comes from trusting the heart without fear or hesitation, indeed the word comes from the old French “cor” meaning heart. What my new little friend had shown me is that it wasn’t her wings, which carried her so far out to sea, but the strength of her heart. Half way around the world, far from my home, I had been introduced to my new life, and immense capacities and possibilities of my heart, by a little garden bird brimming with courage.
The next day, she flew off heading south and I knew this was going to be a Good Holiday.
Words: Dylan McGarry
Pictures: Travis McGarry