I am driving through a vast desert country in an old van, a 3rd-world patched-up canvas-topped affair. My companion is a journalist; she's on a deadline, and the desert doesn't interest her much. We make a quick stop in a destitute village for refreshment and news of the road, and learn that there is a tragedy unfolding on the route ahead of us. Some people have been attacked--are still being attacked--by a monstrous, bizarre flock of birds. Our journey will take us right past it, and suddenly I'm anxious to get back on the road; maybe we can help those people. My companion is unenthusiastic, however. She figures the people are already dead, or will be by the time we get there. But we head out across the desert again, my anxiety building with every mile, and soon the birdstorm looms into sight.
It is hideous. Ravens, jays, eagles, crows, birds of every description, in a massive cloud that towers to the sky. It boils and heaves, it stirs up the dry earth, it blots out the sun. It's a cloud of hatred, of retribution and madness. It is everything about the world that doesn't make sense, that shouldn't be. The cloud boils constantly in on itself, driving toward its center, where I can't imagine how those people can still be alive. Ahead of us is a sparse desert oasis, and our faint track of a road enters this. We find people inside, their cars parked here and there, watching. They have set up a makeshift camp, just off the flagstone road, and in the clouds of dust stirred up by the birdstorm, this is a surreal war-zone of a world. Near us a little group of people squats, one of them playing a dirge on his harmonica.
I am frantic. Why aren't we attempting a rescue? I look up at the birdstorm, writhing above the trees. The noise is phenomenal. All I have for protection is a bandanna to keep the dust from clogging my throat. I figure I can break a heavy branch off one of the trees to fight off the birds, and maybe tie a rope to my waist so someone can pull me out. But no one is listening to my pleas for help--my journalist companion is grumbling at the prolonged stop, and the squatters all but ignore me. I think of the people at the bottom of that storm, torn by thousands of curved beaks and talons, bleeding in the dust, no doubt being divided into bloody pieces; and in the end it's my own mind that drags me down. I'm so despondent looking at that overpowering, evil storm that I can't even get out of the van. The noise and the dust, the situation itself, is immobilizing. I realize the fear is too much for me, the darkness too terrifying. I succumb to the paralysis that has already gripped the others, and instead of making an effort, I hang my head in shame.
This past week we had a reminder of how overpowering the darkness can be. How anxiety-inducing it is to realize that death and loss will come to us all, regardless of the form it takes. Sometimes it is absolutely terrifying to contemplate loving another human being under these circumstances--because the more deeply we love, the more painful it is to undergo the loss. So much easier, so much less painful, to "go to sleep" and not try. To sit and play a dirge, or do nothing at all--to let our eyes glaze over and our hearts go numb while others are hurting, being torn to pieces, rather than grab a rope and dive in to help. Even when it seems like all is lost, I am learning that I have to try. And sometimes--to be honest--all IS lost. But to know that you tried instead of sitting there in self-defeat: that's something. If, in the dream, I dove into that evil mess with a rope around my waist, got the shit beaten out of me, discovered there was nothing left to rescue, and then got pulled back out of it by someone on the other end of the rope--at least I'd have known I gave it my best. And that I had some backup.
I've had that experience in my life recently, and even though I didn't get what I thought I wanted and needed, I found out that it's the people on the other end of the rope that really matter.
KB © 12/16/12