When I was in my mid-thirties and realizing after eight years of trying to conceive a child, visiting doctors, adoption agencies, etc, that my husband and I were not going to have children after all, I was very depressed and confused. I also discovered that I had a terrible physical condition that caused a lot of hormonal imbalance, crying, fatigue, menstrual disorders, and probably contributed to my infertility. I don’t want to go into the gory details too much, but suffice it to say, I was quite miserable, and extremely disappointed. Somehow, in my confused little brain, I had had it all figured out that by marrying and having children and providing them with a good home, I would be making up for certain things that had been lacking in my own early life. And I would be helping to make the world a better place.
During this period in my mid-thirties, I began to realize that these expectations and fantasies about the life I was going to create were actually contributing to my disease. I grieved the loss of my dreams (and many other losses that piggy-backed onto it) and began to gird up my loins, and make a firm and clear intention to change the way I saw my life, to change my expectations, to try to find a new way of seeing myself and my life. To heal myself and begin again.
Everywhere I went during this period, I would constantly see a solitary grackle. I must have seen grackles before, but never really noticed them or thought they were quite ordinary birds, perhaps because they are a simple blackbird in general lineament. But upon closer observation, I noticed that they had lovely rainbow colors around their necks, a subtle iridescence within their black feathering, and a most startling, sparkling, vivid amber eye. They made me think of a poem I'd read that included some phrase like, 'to pierce the sour rind' (of life). I could taste that when I looked at the grackle. Making the rounds of various parking-lots in my empty circle of household duties, I would spot a grackle again and again. I began to think of grackles as a kind of ‘totem’ bird in my life.
I felt I could ‘relate’ to the grackle. I was very lonely at the time, totally out of the loop in terms of the lives of the women around me who were either pursuing careers or raising children or both. I was doing nothing, and in fact, could barely move thanks to the toxicity of my disease process. Well, I take that back - I FELT like I was doing nothing - in reality, I was visiting the sick and dying as a volunteer in our parish and also at Providence Hospital in Oakland. I was also in theology school at the time – and thankfully had some friends there – but anyway, I learned at school that as theologians, we were ‘marginal’ people – not economically perhaps, but in terms of our perspective on life. We looked at life from a different angle than the usual, and related every aspect of human life to its ‘ultimate horizon.’ (This is typical theology-speak, by the way.) Anyway, I read in some book somewhere that the Grackle is a bird of the margins, often seen at roadsides, the edges of fields, places of transition where the ground has been disturbed, etc. Since I seemed to be in just such a place in my own life, I believed even more strongly that the Grackle had been sent to me at this time, by Spirit, as a comforting companion to help me through my own transition to a new life.
So, having written all this, you can imagine my surprise the other day when I picked up a book by Ted Andrews, expert on animals as ‘Spirit-guides,’ called ‘Animal-Speak’ and read his entry on the Grackle: “Overcoming Excess and Emotional Life Congestion.” He mentions the grackle's changing iridescence – “from blue to green to purple or bronze, depending on the light” – and says, “This coloring often reflects a need for those to whom the grackle comes to look at what is going on in their life differently. It says that situations are not what they appear to be and you may not be looking at them correctly – particularly anything dealing with the emotions. The purple and bronze coloring about the head especially usually indicates that emotions are coloring our thinking process.” He also relates the grackle to the need to clear guilt, which was one of the main emotions in my own barrel of emotional congestion that needed to be cleared.
This entry even related meaningfully to the physical condition I was suffering from at that time: “Emotions that are not dealt with can congest our life, aggravating or even creating congestion in the body at some level. Most illness is symbolic. Congestion can tell us that we are holding-in our emotions. It can reflect a suppressed crying or a refusal to deal with certain long-standing problems and issues. It can reflect a refusal to take in new life and new approaches to life, and so we become congested with old emotions.”
Boy, this was exactly what was happening with me during ‘My Time of the Grackle.’ On my own, at that time, I came to realize that my old emotional issues, especially around sexuality and reproduction, were so stuffed down and undealt with that my body had had to manifest a disease in order to get me to pay attention to them. I began to realize that I had to find another way to express my instinct to nurture others. I was finding relief of my physical symptoms through acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, and was also finding that the inwardness and meditative state that was induced during the acupuncture treatment were helping me to connect with the core of myself, where peace and guidance and reassurance were to be found. I wanted to share all of this with others, and decided to stop trying to create a family, and instead to study Chinese medicine and prepare myself to be someone who could help others find some of the same healing I had found. Not only does acupuncture help with the symptoms themselves, but it also can help to lead us to the wonderful realization that physical conditions can actually be the universe’s way of trying to draw our attention to our unacknowledged issues, and help us to discover insight into our issues too. So, this was my new way of seeing things, and the new life for myself that the Grackle led me to.
I didn’t have Ted Andrews book then. In fact, I was not really aware of him until just the other day. But I have to say, I think he is right on about the Grackle, and perhaps about some of the other birds and animals in his books. I am impressed, and just wanted to share this with you.