About five years ago, a dear friend of ours abruptly decided to leave her comfortable life and career in ocean sciences to join the Peace Corps. I was the first among her friends with whom she decided to share this earthshaking news. She told me later that she felt I was the only person in her life open- minded enough to understand, and she didn’t want to hear from anybody who would try to talk her out of it. Could I understand Marga’s yearning to explore the far corners of our beautiful planet, to get more from her own life by helping others less fortunate before her time runs out? Absolutely. But I could never lead such a life myself. Marga’s thirst and courage evade me.
I don’t often hear from Marga these days. Time and great distance tend to separate, even in this electronic age. However, this morning I was overjoyed to discover my inbox full of Marga’s latest journal entries from her current assignment in the Indian Himalayas. I eagerly read through her vivid descriptions of beautiful people, monkeys on rooftops, elephants blocking traffic, the splendor of the mountains, the peaceful joys of studying philosophy from a Buddhist monk, and markets packed with exquisite treasures. When writing my reply to her, I had a sad fleeting thought that my life must seem so boring and mundane to my friend.
Then I was reminded of something that happened a few weeks ago. It has stood out in my mind for some reason ever since. The parrots and I were out for our morning walk when we encountered an ancient-seeming woman. Her back was drawn over with age; deep wrinkles crossed her face; she walked with a twisted branch for a cane; and her eyes were covered with cataracts. I think she was the oldest person I’ve ever seen. Her garments suggested she has likely seen the wonders Marga describes, or at least others similar. Pepper gave the gentle clucks she often uses as a greeting for someone particularly old or particularly young. The old woman outstretched her gnarled finger to point to the greys. A broad smile lit up her face, and she said “Beautiful. They are beautiful.” I never know how to reply when people say this about the birds. Obviously the polite response seems to be to say “Thank you.” But somehow this seems to imply that they are my possessions, acquired through some special prowess of my own; or that they are children who have turned out beautiful due to some genetic contribution of mine or my husband. It doesn’t always seem to fit. This time, I chose to return her smile, bow my head slightly, and reply “Yes, I think so too.” Beauty and grace transcend age, race, and culture. They are attributes appreciated by all who take the time to observe.
I listen to Pepper and Franco sweetly chattering to one another in a combination of English phrases and African Grey. I peer into those wise yellow eyes that constantly study me, and it occurs to me that my life isn’t boring at all, far from it. Nor is it without purpose. I dare say that none of us privileged enough to share our lives with parrots have this problem. After all, we do not even need to leave home to see someone who is exotic and special! It is our chosen responsibility to care for and protect these extraordinary creatures, both in their natural wild realms and as our companions. May we always treat them with the respect they deserve, remembering we are fortunate to have been given such a task. I realize to many it would seem strange; but, to me, Phoenix Landing is my Peace Corps.