“It was a good day at work,” I told a friend a few Tuesdays ago. “I saw two bluejays, two cardinals, and two red-winged blackbirds!”
Finishing the last syllable, I heard my mind’s unspoken response: Hypocrite.
“I hate birds.” The words come so easily. Walking along the beach, watching seagulls soar above Lake Michigan. Licking gelato, eyeing the pigeons clustering in every crevice of Saint Mark’s Basilica. Meandering through the zoo, rerouting myself away from emus and ostriches and other monstrosities.
But in my office, glancing out the window to East Paris, I smile at every visiting pair of fluttering wings. I spend my days editing stories about fictional creatures: snoozing koalas, letter-writing bears, globetrotting tigers who just want to find home. When a real animal shows up outside the pages, I can’t just ignore its presence.
We have other visitors outside the office: squirrels, chipmunks, occasionally even a pair of fawns. But the birds were the first to return after the winter, the first to perch on the budding branches and welcome green back to Grand Rapids.
Over a year has passed since I graduated from college, and so little has stayed the same. Yesterday all four of my old housemates were in the same place—for the first time in months. In a few more months, I’ll be the only one who still lives in West Michigan.
What were once fixtures of my life are now occasional joys, and current fixtures were new and unfamiliar a year (or a few months) ago. While the pace of change has slowed down, my identity is still catching up.
In May I noticed that—for the first time in ten years—the month was no more stressful than the rest of my year. A deadline may loom; a task may emerge unexpectedly; a move might be scheduled. But I can no longer predict that as the seasons change, the school year will end in a flurry of papers and tests and final projects. Instead, May blurred into June, which blurred into July, life’s rhythms relatively unchanged by the arrival of summer.
We define our lives by the patterns we repeat. And I repeat words more than almost any other pattern. The more I speak certain phrases, the more I believe them and trust them to contain all I am.
So much identity-shaping happens by generalization, from the playground to the workplace, but our personal generalizations—our names for ourselves—can also become our barriers to growth. The old phrases and habits fence us in, protected from discovering something new and joyful and good.
“I hate birds.” Some birds, and fewer and fewer birds. A wild turkey and her little flock marched out of the forest a few Fridays ago, their long necks stretched out in search of food. I found myself laughing instead of shuddering, fascinated by their feathered progress across the parking lot.
Courtney Zonnefeld graduated in 2018 with a degree in writing. She currently lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where she works for Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. In her free time, she enjoys reading, baking, and saving up for more herb plants. You can usually find her wandering a farmer’s market, hunting for vintage books, or browsing the tea selection in coffee shops.