I am feeling the melancholy weight of human inconstancy: what people say and don’t mean, what they mean and don’t say. Or what they seem to mean earnestly one day but somehow not the next, or say with great conviction, only to soon recant. It feels painful, this dissonance, the shifting sand of what people say and what they actually do.
I should take it in stride, but my heart objects. I’ve been human long enough to accept the faithlessness of our kind, yet if I’m grumpy or sleepy — or, really, any of the dwarves but happy — it can be disheartening. I want us to be nobler than we are. Steadfast. So that we might trust each other, and in that trust, find encouragement to love.
I didn’t realize how sad I was feeling until the robins disappeared. They have been nesting under my garage eaves for several years; last summer, I watched a mated pair fly themselves ragged raising two broods. I got to see them fledge: a heart-stopping affair, the young ones tumbling into netless air on untested wings.
They all made it, and in the weeks that followed, I often saw the heavily speckled youngsters hopping along the ground or flapping awkwardly in low branches. And the parents always near, still feeding them.
So I looked forward to their return this spring, and made ready. Two months ago, I clambered up a ladder to remove last year’s mud and straw nest, which the mother robin shapes carefully with her breast. This year’s pair would want to build its own.
I was thrilled when that work got underway several weeks ago, each day a new twig or piece of straw or small piece of wild softness sticking over the lip of the nest. I regularly saw both robins, the black-headed male perched with a kind of preemptive vigilance on the fence, the grey-headed female working on the nest.
But a few days ago – though I kept hearing their song, well before sunrise and long after dusk — my robins seemed to quit their nest. I comforted myself with the memory of something similar last year, periods of bustle followed by quiescence before the mother started incubating her clutch.
Still, I felt a pang: Something had gone wrong. And on the heels of that hurt a realization of how badly I needed them, of how much their constancy mattered to me. I wanted them to persevere, to be true. Last year, I watched the mother robin sit the nest through a month of torrential rain, riding out the wind and the storms while the father stayed close, perpetually on-guard against predators. I wanted to bear witness again, to attest to their faithfulness.
Silly, I know, and unfair: a coarse, earthbound human projecting the weight of her needs onto the light and feathered grace of two small birds. I know.
But I can’t help it, so when I saw the female back on the nest this morning, I felt a sudden joy. I watched both robins, then, winging out and back into the nest, gathering and delivering damp clay soil, and then the female turning and settling, turning and settling. Shaping the mud cup in which she will lay her eggs, if all goes well.
May it go well, I think, and it feels like a prayer: May it go well. For you and your young ones, who will follow you into a natural world of singular faithfulness. But for me, too, and all the other human beings, who — weary of our own kind — can look to yours, and feel again an abiding trust and something like love.