Fights in IYC were common; movement was limited between school, chow hall and gym. As days turned to weeks and then months of sameness, depression set in. The world turned grey and meaningless around me. I began to feel as dead on the inside as I apparently was to the world outside.
One day I remember staring out the window at nothing in particular when a cardinal flew up and landed on the ledge in front of me. I froze at the sight of it, afraid I might scare it away if I moved. Its color was bright its blaze of red instantly seemed to burn through the haze of my depression and for a moment transported me back to my Grandmother and Grandfathers farm where on any given day I would see everything from cardinals and blue jays to barn owls and the occasional hummingbird.
After a few moments of exploring the ledge, the cardinal glided down to the lawn not ten feet away, its plume just as bright from a distance as it had been close up. It was soon joined by its smaller, less colorful mate in what became a beautiful choreographed dance back and forth and around one another through the grass until they came across a piece of apple core.
After a few tentative stabs with their beaks the prize was quickly snatched up and away they flew. I don’t remember how long I stood there exactly. I had been lost in the sight before me, feeling for a moment as free as the cardinals themselves.
When I finally turned around I was excited. I wailed to yell out and ask if anyone else had seen the birds. It was apparent however that no one else had. It was business as usual; cards, television and horseplay ad infinitum. It hit me that everything I had just experienced even if others had seen it, was still uniquely my own. Despite all that was and in the future would be lost to me because of my incarceration, this moment and potentially many other moments just as special would be mine to share in if I would stay open to them.
I promised myself there and then to always try to be open to such moments and experience as much of life as I could. For better or worse I’ve done my best to keep that promise and throughout the years have been rewarded with experience I’d have been all the poorer for if I’d missed them.
This promise is one of the things that motivates me to continue in my practice after nearly twenty as a Buddhist. I look forward to spending time each day trying to sit in the moment, taking in as much of its unique, miraculous and dependently original expression of the universe I’ve discovered it to be and am able to share.