I stepped outside and the sky was filled with seagulls. It looked like a scene from Hitchcock. I said “woah” before the door closed behind me and felt a twinge of embarrassment. I hoped no one heard me. The convenience store and my daily cup of coffee were only a few hundred feet away, but I kept my back pressed to the door and calculated the trajectory of falling objects. Hugging the building would give me some protection, but more than half of the angles of approach were still wide open. I did not want to get bird shit on me first thing in the morning.
There’s certainly no good time to get hit with seagull waste, but the very beginning of your day might be the worst. I imagined cleaning my shirt off in the bathroom at work, pumping the dinky soap dispenser like a mad man. Maybe I could wash off the bird shit and no one would notice, but I’d still know. I didn’t have a change of clothes, so I’d have to work the whole day in a soiled shirt. Or what if it got it my hair? Gross.
Rage rose up in me at the Seven Eleven that was the eye of this seagull storm. This wasn’t the first morning that I had to weigh the desire for caffeination against the risk of defecation. They must have open dumpsters behind the building or something to draw this flock of birds each morning. I was standing out in the cold with no coffee waiting for a bird to ruin my day and it was all their fault.
I watched the birds wheeling around in the sky. My anger was a translucent cloud obscuring my vision that faded and disappeared, like my breath in the January morning air. These seagulls weren’t diving into dumpsters or picking trash off the ground; they weren’t landing at all. They were simply flying in circles above the parking lot. I thought they would be making a racket with their screeching calls, but they were actually silent and the cacophony was only in my head. What was it exactly that made these birds seem so annoying and dirty in my perception? Was it the fact that they were nearly pure white, so that their spots looked like something they sat in? Or was it the idea that they were scavengers? Was it just popular opinion that I had absorbed?
What did I really know about seagulls anyway? Surprisingly, my tired mind did its best to respond to this rhetorical question. It pulled up memories of days on the beach and driving past a garbage dump. An image of a bird skeleton came to me, the wings like stretched out hands, no wait that’s bats. Birds have honeycomb bones, I knew that much. Ornithology, that’s bird science. Seagulls must have a scientific name, my mind didn’t know it, but it was fairly confident of the word’s contours, polysyllabic and Latinate. Flock of Seagulls: that eighties band with the weird haircut, referred to by Samuel L Jackson in Pulp Fiction. The animated seagulls in Finding Nemo screaming “Mine!” Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which I purchased in two different used book stores.
I realized that all of these associations had little to do the creatures gliding above me. In fact, these ideas I had about seagulls stood in the way of the experience I was having in the moment. I tried to push these concepts to the side and really see the birds. What was it like to be them? Were they cold? Maybe they were going around in circles just to keep warm. Does flying through the air feel like swimming through water? I stood there and felt a deep connection to every person throughout history who had gazed up at a bird in wonder.
The anger I felt just a minute before seemed so ridiculous. Releasing my knee-jerk emotional reaction and my preconceived ideas had led me to this pleasant state of curiosity and openness. It was literally wonderful. And then I let go of wonder too. I stopped seeking the answers and I stopped asking questions. There were just the birds floating silently in the frozen air and myself on the ground in awe. So miraculous, so commonplace.
I stayed in this expansive state for a minute or two, then I went inside to get my coffee and start my day. I resolved to seek this zen mind more often and maybe share it with others if I could. Ten minutes at work erased this state and the ambition to spread it, but the practice is to keep bringing yourself back. To see the mystery behind the everyday and the eternal within the momentary.