The barn swallows built a nest above my studio door. They usually build one somewhere along the roofline, but often on the back side where I can’t so easily see it.
For weeks I heard them working as I worked, chittering to each other as they took turns resting on the curved stem of a steel lamp. I’d catch glimpses of them after a morning rain scooping up mouthfuls of mud to do their chinking. One day, once the nest was complete, I saw the boy pick up a down feather recently preened from one of our ducks and give it to the girl to line the nest: Hi honey; I brought you a comforter.
And then, I used the back door.
For a while, I didn’t see much. A glimpse here or there, a warning swoop above my head to let me know when I’d tread too closely.
But then suddenly there were barn swallows everywhere.
Barn swallows flexing their wings above the milkweed. Barn swallows swooping around on a hot June evening eating the bugs that hovered in the air like a three dimensional dot-to-dot puzzle. Barn swallows dive-bombing me with a loud squeaka-squeaka so close my hair swirled in their wake.
In the blink of an eye, the babies had grown.
I hadn’t really seen them when they were in the nest. I heard them, for sure – the sound of youthful hunger is unmistakable. But I politely left them alone.
But yesterday I got to see them up close and personal.
They were sitting on the Westport chair – the blue one that Alan built, that had been my spot just the day before. Two were perched on its back and one on its arm. Just… sitting. Taking in the world around them. My, what nice weather we’re having.
And it was nice. A picture perfect sun-day, with deep blue skies and not a cloud in sight. A perfect day to read a book or take a nap or mow the lawn, which precisely is what Alan decided to do.
As he maneuvered the tractor around the chair, the barn swallows didn’t budge an inch and simply looked at him. As I grabbed my phone to surreptitiously sneak a photo, they didn’t budge a millimeter and looked at me.
A warning dive to the back of my head.
Okay, I hear you. I’m leaving.
For as fearless as the babies were, the parents were just the opposite, imagining all the terrible things that could go wrong and all the horrible ways it would happen. I know this not because I have some emotional kinship with barn swallows, but because I’m an adult. This is precisely what I use my imagination for.
It wasn’t always this way. When I was younger, I used my imagination to dream. Like, of good things. Fantastical things sometimes, sure. But net positive.
But as a mature individual, I now use it to tell myself why I shouldn’t dream. The list is amazingly comprehensive:
Because it might not work.
Because it might work, but it might be hard.
Because I might not be able to pull it off.
Because I might pull it off, but somebody might think it’s dumb.
Because somebody might tell me it’s dumb.
Because I’ll brace myself for them telling me, and then I’ll hear nothing at all.
Because I don’t know whether it’s worse to hear something bad, or not hear anything at all.
…And that’s just the beginning.
You know this, yes? You do it too? Of course you do. You’re an adult. It’s practically your job. That’s what imagination is for, isn’t it? At least for people our age, whatever our age is.
Pablo Picasso once said:
Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.
I propose a new quote:
Every child is fearless. The problem is how to remain fearless once she grows up.
Because how different would your life look if you weren’t afraid? How different would it look if you used your imagination to dream – you know, of good things?