‘What’s that bird with the red patch on its head?’ This is the trouble with holding meetings in the garden; there are so many distractions.
Though they’re not really ‘distractions’; they’re the reason life is wonderful.
‘It’s a goldfinch’, I answered. Two years ago I wouldn’t even have known what a goldfinch looked like. But about that time they decided to start visiting our garden. Since then they’re here virtually every day in their numbers, often three or four at a time feeding on the sunflower kernels and niger seed which we diligently replenish.
Yesterday a fledgling hopped past outside my study. I gave it a stern warning about local cats, though mercifully the dog generally sees them off the territory. (The other day a young bird flew right into my study and sat surveying me from the bookshelf before mercifully finding its way back to the wide expanses of the unrestricted air.)
There are young wrens too; last year a brood kept looking in from the windowsill. My favourite of all was the season the greater-spotted woodpeckers raised a family in our garden.
Last Shabbat a mother blackbird pecked beakfuls of unripe fig-seed from our tree and fed it mouthful by mouthful to its two teenagers, whose young tail feathers were still speckled and brown.
I’m not just writing about these small matters to take my mind away from the terrors and disasters which almost daily afflict our world. Rather, it’s important to remind oneself what life is for, why it is such a privilege, and why even deliberately damaging the wing of one small bird is such an outrageous crime.
There’s a blessing, not said often enough: ‘Baruch she-kacha lo be’olamo; Blessed be the One in whose world it is thus!’ The ‘one’ may be God, or simply life itself, or perhaps they are really the same thing, that vital force in the quintessence of creation which generates such magnificent and infinitely varied forms of existence.
Perhaps we don’t say that blessing enough because we don’t notice. That’s what most adults love about small children. ‘Look!’ they cry, ‘Look at that!’ all their energy and excitement bounding into a great exclamation mark of curiosity and delight. And we relearn through them to look again, the dust blown away from our habituated perceptions.
I can imagine a God who challenges us with disappointed puzzlement: ‘You were in my world, but you didn’t notice!?’ The question applies to beauty and wonder as much as it does to sensitivity towards other people, their suffering, their sensibilities.
At the bottom of the garden the sweet peas are flowering in perfumed cascades (There are some in the synagogue garden too). I know they are just little things. But they are also why it’s so terrible to be forced to become a refugee, why war is so appalling, – because a person loves the scents and colours of home, because its dawns and dusks, its shrubs and trees, its birds and animals make sense, and nowhere else ever does to the same depth, with that same breath of childhood, that same intuition of life’s wholeness. Friends who have allotments say it’s the world in a vegetable patch, everyone aspiring to grow the tastes of home, wherever that once was.