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Birds and Love

May 30, 2011

Jonathan Franzen wrote an illuminating op-ed piece in the New York Times yesterday, excerpted from his Kenyon College commencement speech, where he addresses the limits and dangers of technology in enabling us to experience real emotions, and love in particular. His understanding of what it means to love coincides with his discovery and infatuation with birds:

BUT then a funny thing happened to me. It’s a long story, but basically I fell in love with birds. I did this not without significant resistance, because it’s very uncool to be a birdwatcher, because anything that betrays real passion is by definition uncool. But little by little, in spite of myself, I developed this passion, and although one-half of a passion is obsession, the other half is love.

And so, yes, I kept a meticulous list of the birds I’d seen, and, yes, I went to inordinate lengths to see new species. But, no less important, whenever I looked at a bird, any bird, even a pigeon or a robin, I could feel my heart overflow with love.

I read this passage and screamed YES! because this is exactly how I feel. Lately, I haven’t seen much in terms of stellar, stunning, mention-worthy avian greatness (minus this past Saturday, which I will blog about shortly), but it’s the absolutely ordinary birds in my neighborhood that I’ve been delighting in and staring at, in absolute wonder. How can one feel rapture at the sight of a robin? (I wouldn’t go as far as the pigeon, usually, but I do have my pigeon-infatuation-esque moments, which I’m only admitting in this semi-confessional forum.) Lately, I’ve found that the sight of any bird excites me! They call out to me, I have absolutely no clue what they’re talking about, and yet I’m convinced we’re having a conversation, of sorts. Delusional? Maybe. Happy? Definitely.

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