It was the raucous squabbling sounds that drew my wife and I to our kitchen window. There they were, at least 20 seagulls swooped down from a dull grey sky and gathered on the bend of the road opposite our house. Making quite the racket.
A large scrawny fragment of what looked like a chicken carcass lay there on the drab tarmacadam surface and they were arguing over it.
Before we moved to our coastal home 11 years ago, what would evoke the seaside for me more than anything was the sight and sound of languid seagulls catching the salted breeze high in the wailing sky, looping high and low on outstretched wings.
But day on day, you get used to these creatures of the maritime skies and shoreline. Up close, they are big and robust, their long, crooked yellow bills contantly pecking and poking for sustenance. Wherever they can find it.
I still like them, and their uniquely plaintive cries, I just see and hear them every day is all. I don’t see the magic anymore. Take it for granted.
All of life was there outside our window now: the loudest ones, the tougher ones claiming first dibs, close to the object of desire and calling the shots.
Just outside them were the narky ones not letting them away with it, noisily demanding their share, but not willing to take them on, gull to gull. But making such a nuisance of themselves they would have to be paid off in some way.
Just outside this inner circle were the plucky but not foolish optimists, who would crane in and attempt a nip at the carcass before being driven back, But still they hovered, not giving up yet.
Outside again were the more timid ones, squawking away, calling forlornly for a fair divide, but lacking all conviction. The vocal majority.
On the periphery were the quieter ones, dabbing around, ready to take any crumbs that might be left over. But expecting nothing, and already pecking around on the grass verges. Never diners at the top table, they were well used to surviving in the favelas beyond.
To us, this carcass was rubbish, probably discarded in some bin, which one of the more adventurous of these birds had managed to peck the lid off, and plunged in to grab it. And had probably dropped it onto the road just now.
But to our aquatic friends, this was a precious haul. Worth fighting and quarreling over.
It’s a matter of perspective. How we frame things.
Any sometimes it’s good to to reframe the picture, big or small.
To reframe a world view that no longer sees the magic in the ordinary and instead looks for the ordinary in the magic. Takes it for granted.
The whole thing made me think about my daughter, and the rather negative view she has of the world at the moment. No amount of telling her how pretty she is, how talented she is, seems to help her, for now, to reframe her views.
Our little Miss Sunshine has gone to the darker side, wondering already why we should bother about anything, since we are all going to die anyway.
Doesn’t keep her from her regular swoops on the treats stash all the same. Gliding in with a conviction to rival any seagull predator.
A cheap shot, of course. But it really is mindboggling to observe the obstacles that well-fed, well-looked after, beautiful, talented and perfectly intelligent children without any obvious disadvantages, can throw across their own paths.
Yes we are all going to die, but as the great Leonard Cohen put it, we don’t have to participate so enthusiastically in the process. So much to do and enjoy in the meantime.
It’s amazing how, as teens and adults, we take so many things for granted in the world. And they lose their magic. Maybe like my once romantic view of seaside living, and seagulls.
Maybe I too could do with a reframing of how I see things. See the magical where it is, and so what if is every day?
I am thinking now of my Dad, and an episode when I wasn’t much older than our daughter K is now.
Looking back on it now, I believe I was going through something maybe not unlike what K is experiencing. Existential angst, but without any understanding of what I was experiencing, or why. And what to do about it.
I was just moping about, listless and lacking in motivation.
One day in the kitchen, I finally piped up to tell Dad I was feeling depressed.
He looked into my eyes, over and back, taken aback, and struggled for words.
But I could see that he was trying to understand, trying to find something to say to me, even it was from the perspective of a man who went out working in the world at a young age, and had just gotten on with things ever since.
Or so it appeared to me.
According to my teenage framing of my Dad’s way of being, how could he know what was going on for me?
Here, to me, was a man who just got on with life, and was not someone I would discus how he or I felt about anything.
I gave no thought then to how this good and decent man had found the inner resources to cope when his adored wife of 20 years, first of all became seriously ill, and then died.
He had to reframe his whole take on family life and move from being the peripheral, to us kids, traditional bread winner, to being Mom and Dad to all six of us, with the youngest not yet four.
And made a pretty good fist of it.
Anyway, he looked at me across the kitchen then, and finally blurted out the immortal words:
“But, you shouldn’t be depressed.”
And the mad thing was, his words made me laugh out loud. Not at him. I thought the words were banal, daft even, but they somehow cut through my angst and tickled my funny bone. Which hadn’t been tickled for some time.
He meant those words so sincerely, and was trying his hardest to reach me. Trying to get me to reframe my world view.
I laughed then, and he laughed too, probably not knowing at what, just glad to see me snapping out of my angst. Getting on with things.
We didn’t stay to watch the outcome of the seagull dispute. I guess we assumed, as Lennie Cohen once observed in his song Everybody Knows, that particular fight was already fixed, since:
“The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That’s how it goes,
Maybe my daughter isn’t the only one who needs to reframe their perspective.
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