Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


Waiting for Wings

Written by:

A lovely young friend of mine showed up at my door a couple of weeks back with a big branch of pussywillows—she knows me well. I plunked them in a vase, and in return for water, they have been giving me a little buzz of happiness each time pass by. I clearly am on the winning end of this bargain.

A few days back, I noticed that the branch is budding out, so now I have a shock of electric green in my living room too. I find myself pausing several times a day to check out the progress. Tiny green nubs have become sprays of almost-leaves. Spring is happening right before my eyes.

It has me thinking that miracles often unfold in front of us but we miss them entirely. Maybe we don’t know what we’re looking at. Maybe we’re looking at something else. Maybe the pace is too slow for us to track.

When I was a young woman out hiking with a naturalist friend, I nearly tramped right through a spring miracle. My friend caught my sleeve & we stopped together in long grass near a slough. His sharp eyes had caught movement, and we crouched down to watch. Dozens of lumpy cricket-like creatures had crawled up grass stems and were bobbing in the breeze. In the bright sun, I watched the insect close to me. Its tiny feet gripped the stem while its back began to split open. Slowly, slowly, the carapace opened up and a new body pushed out into the cool air. Slowly, slowly, packets of wing tissue uncrumpled and spread out—I was looking at a newly-minted dragonfly.

We crouched together for awhile, my friend and I and a whole community of new dragonflies. When their wings had dried and become rigid enough to hold them, they lifted up and flew away.

I have thought of that encounter many times over the past four decades. When I was young, I was awestruck and a little daunted at witnessing this blunt transition from youth to adulthood, from earthbound to airborne. I was in the midst of it myself, fearful about the strength of my own wings. With more life in me now, I find myself honing in on the fact that these moments of transformation are often shattering—we don’t slough off an old self without wreckage and vulnerability.

I believe that ultimately this process of transformation is what we’re here for—all of us living beings. My willow branch is programmed to bloom and then to bud. Those dragonfly nymphs were programmed to burst open their carapaces and fly. How do we humans do it?

I believe that every time we engage in an open-hearted experience of art—any art form, any genre—we are climbing up the grass stem. Being immersed deeply in a poem, a painting, a jazz solo is ultimately a choice to open up your whole being, allowing yourself to be inhabited by another belief structure, another imagination, another sensory registry. We take in new ideas, we weigh them against what we have already encountered, and we expand.

When we break open our well-defended shell of self, something new in us can push out into the world and feel the spring air. And who knows, one of those evolutions might involve wings…

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