I’ve just spent the better part of an hour watching six hummingbirds dance their aerial ballet round and round our feeder. It is the most mesmerizing sight. I rank it right up there with – well, would it seem like hyperbole to say it ranks up there with watching Caitlin graduate from med school or Bethany give birth to Bentley? Does that sound just a wee bit sacrilegious? But honestly, if you’ve never seen something like it, you just don’t know. You’ll just never get it. Six of them. SIX. Pirouetting and promenading up and down the length of our deck, jostling for prime position. The boys and I have been having our hotdogs and Doritos (it’s been a long week and it’s only Tuesday, don’t judge – and besides, I also gave them yogurt – with active cultures, so that cancels out all the bad. It does). Anyways, we’ve been eating our hotdogs and Doritos – and yogurt – and laughing and giggling and smiling up a storm at all the shenanigans. It’s made for a special end to a long and otherwise quite ordinary day.
At first, I wanted to believe those little hummingbirds were enjoying a random Tuesday-after-work happy hour, dancing and drinking and shrugging off a long day, just like the rest of us would love to be doing if we weren’t saddled up to a couple of high chairs instead of bar stools, mixing watered-down apple juice in sippies instead of full-throttle top shelf in a shaker. But the more I watched, the more I realized it wasn’t really a party. It was more like a feathered facsimile of an Italian and Puerto Rican street fight. I could almost hear the West Side Story soundtrack as they jabbed and jibbed, zigged and zagged, beaks flourished and fierce. They were being territorial. They were being little shits.
Their behavior reminds me of some humans I know when it comes to food… myself included. Case in point: I consider it a sacrifice of the highest order if, when I am serving up my homemade cinnamon rolls (which I don’t make nearly as often as I did prior to the birth of the twins and, therefore, are all the more precious and rare), I fork over the sweet center roll, all soft and drippy with cream cheese frosting and happiness to someone else. And rest assured, it’s never just a random someone else… it’s a someone else of substance and value and absolute import. Namely my husband or one of my children – and by children, I mean my girls. The boys aren’t quite old enough to appreciate the super soft center roll with all the drippy happiness, so that would just be a waste of a really monumental sacrifice. Again, don’t judge. It’s a right of passage — they’ll grow into the privilege.
So thinking about these hummingbirds and their propensity to fight over food – and me and my propensity to be selfish about my own food unless it’s with those I love, or really, really like – and then only because I tell myself it’s the right thing to do and that sharing my food is what good mothers and good wives and good friends do because it’s what kind and generous-hearted people do (Is it, though? Is it kind and generous hearted if one has to coerce oneself into sharing?)– calls to mind one of my favorite lectures in AP Lit: Communion.
In literature, when characters sit down to supper, it’s rarely just to eat. If a writer takes the trouble to describe a meal, pay attention, I tell them. Writers don’t write about mealtime because it’s interesting. There’s a whole lot more riveting things to record than somebody chewing their cud. A person eating food isn’t interesting; it’s mundane (unless you’re the one doing the eating); t’s sometimes gross; oftentimes annoying (don’t get me started on smacking and slurping), but very rarely is it interesting. So in good literature, the process of consuming food symbolizes communion – not communion in terms of the religious, holy sacrament — but in terms of the unification and interaction of people on a deeper level. Think community here. If characters break bread together, they are part of a community; they are building or have built a relationship. If during the scene, characters cannot or will not partake of the meal, that’s your cue to search for deeper underlying character and relationship issues. For instance, in my little cinnamon roll anecdote, I just revealed to all of you that I am a glutton. Beyond that, you learned I am a selfish, judgmental glutton with control issues and disruptive eating patterns that can negatively impact relationships. Not really, y’all. I just really, REALLY like the soft gooey middles of the cinnamon roll pan. But still…
Communion is one of my favorite discussions in AP Lit because kids get it. They understand food. Their social lives revolve around food – from clandestine vending machine trysts, to fiestas in Spanish, to McDonald’s runs afterschool. There’s nothing they love more than an excuse to eat with their best buddies. And they’ll do almost anything humanly possibly to avoid eating with someone they don’t like – look at lunchroom alliances. The lines are drawn quickly and clearly, and rarely do they blur or shift. Just look at the movie, Mean Girls, and you’ll get it. Like tends to sit with like: geeks sit with geeks; nerds with nerds; jocks with jocks; and so on and so on and on.
A few years back, some of our more magnanimous and outgoing students at Woodland participated in a tolerance activity loosely based on musical chairs called Mix it Up. Students abandoned their customary tables and crews and sat with strangers, introducing themselves and looking for common ground. I loved the idea, applauded the concept, was completely in awe of these students and their ability to stretch outside their comfort zones because I know I would have had a crazy tough time doing what they did. I’m telling you, kids these days… they get a bad rap, but they’re truly extraordinary. Get to know some. Sadly, I don’t think Woodland has done it in a few years. Or if we have, I haven’t heard about it.
These little hummingbird hoodlums haven’t heard about Mix it Up either. It’s against nature – human or otherwise – to be too inclusive when it comes to something as exceedingly personal and fulfilling as mealtime. Grown ups are the same way – whether we’re teachers in the break room or business people in office complexes, we are just as territorial. We tend to eat only with our cliques and get our tail feathers in a tiff if somebody else intrudes.
I’ve mentioned in the past that one of my favorite traditions in our new Cartersville football community is the post-game potluck dinners. Cartersville knows how to Mix it Up. To me, these meals demonstrate communion at its best – numerous families gathered together to share a meal and make memories. On any given Friday night, you’ll find a hodgepodge of foodstuffs, from buffalo chicken dip to pot roast to Mountain Dew Cake. And as equally hodgepodge are the people gathered around the tables. Now I know the common denominator is football, but y’all, the similarities end there. Our community is truly patchwork: the coaches(husbands and dads of every age, color and political leaning); the wives (moms, teachers, nurses and activists in an equally varied number of complexions and persuasions); children (from barely walking babes to cleated, sweaty players and even beyond). The food is delicious and the folk are downright neighborly. The whole process is like a warm casserole after being out in the cold, and I am forever grateful that they have welcomed me (an outsider and a nerd) and mine (not nearly as nerdy, more in keeping with the jocks, but with a good, heaping helping of geekdom) into their fold.
I’m so grateful for my new community and their generosity of spirit that I think I could coerce myself into sharing the soft, gooey cinnamon roll centers with them. Well, at least the folk old enough to recognize the gesture for what it is – a real sacrifice. Those barely-walking babes won’t know what they’re missing anyways…
Now pardon me while I go put out some fresh hummingbird nectar for my feisty little friends. I know I should feel ashamed of myself, but it’s still a pleasure tantamount to — cinnamon roll centers — to watch them wage war, one against the other (…five).