When bad things happen, start swimming

Last week I had  a day when nothing went right, and everything took way longer than it should.  I tried three times to complete an online insurance form, only to have the website shut down each time. Then I spent half an hour on the phone with the company trying to get an answer, but was cast repeatedly into an automated phone attendant loop, like an escapee from Groundhog Day. Next I spent an hour, not the 20 minutes I’d allocated, getting a flu shot at a local pharmacy. And on and on the day went in a series of frustrations large and small to which I responded with neither grace nor equanimity.

It didn’t help – because I’m not a very nice person – that my husband was having a very happy, productive day where everything he touched fell into place and all obstacles were lifted from his path. Instead of rejoicing in his good fortune, I just got crabbier. At 4:30 I realized that I had not worked for even 10 minutes on what I had gotten out of bed early that morning planning to do.

So I stopped trying. I put away all thoughts of book writing and turned to a photo project that I’ve been working on for a few months. I started looking through the pictures I had and when I came to the one below, it reminded me of the river drama that had unfolded the day I took it.

I’d been sitting at my desk staring out the window (not all my unproductive days are the result of external misfortune, some just spring from laziness). I saw a hawk land on the dock at the end of our backyard, and I jumped up and took this photo.red tailed hawk

Right after I got the picture,  all hell broke loose.

With a lightning quick move the hawk launched into the air, then did an amazing high-speed, almost vertical drop, down to the river. He rose carrying a prize in his claws – a little bird that wriggled and writhed in what seemed like a doomed escape attempt. But as I watched, both fascinated and horrified, the bird twisted out of the hawk’s grasp and fell back into the water. I ran to the river’s edge. Just as I reached the bank I sensed something behind me. I turned to look in time to see an eagle swoop over my head, headed for the small bird. Something – maybe my sudden movement into the line of the eagle’s downward trajectory – threw him off his game. He veered away,  leaving his would-be prey to swim another day.

And swim she did, with an odd, herky-jerky style, in loopy circles, round and round for several minutes. Her day had definitely not gone as planned. I stayed on the bank watching her and taking pictures. Several times she attempted to climb up on some rocks, only to slip back into the water and flap about before making another wobbly approach to stable ground. On the fourth attempt she made it.smallwaterbird_opt

I moved in to get another photo, but finally realized that my large human presence was probably even more alarming to her than the two predator birds that tried to make dinner of her had been. I left her in peace.                                                .

As I looked at the photos again yesterday, I thought about that bird, going about her daily bird rounds, when out of nowhere a hawk snatched her away from her happy bird life. She didn’t give up, even though the hawk was many times larger and stronger than her. She twisted and turned and gave it her best shot. Wonder of wonders, it worked.

But she didn’t even have time to recover, let alone celebrate, before an even bigger predator zeroed in on her. Now that’s having a bad day. When the danger unexpectedly passed, she started swimming again. Not in any particular direction at first, but she was moving. And really if you’re going to stay afloat in life, what else can you do?

Things large and small swoop down on us daily. Sometimes they come so fast they knock us right off course, sometimes they just bump us around a little. The solution for peace of mind is to remember that when things go wrong – things usually of far less consequence to me than the predator-prey drama I witnessed – just keep swimming. Sooner or later I’ll get back on course.




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