August 31, 2001, I left my employment in the corporate world on a journey to see where putting my spirituality first led me. After a couple weeks, we had experienced 9-11 and everyone was curious about what I was doing. Adjusting to the abrupt end to a frantic pace of life, I sat in my backyard, noticing I was breathing in a way I was not accustomed to. Without the stressful holding my breath during anxious decisions, I was eating lunch! I began writing “Reflections from the backyard” and wrote more or less at least monthly for the next 10 years. Since I am without the weekly writing of sermons and newsletters, I think I will use the Radical Wholeness blog for a new series of reflections on diversity. Nature seems to be my inspiration.
Charlie is the cardinal who comes to my little cup of bird seed on the apartment patio. We are not really allowed bird feeders at the apartments due to the mess. I felt lost without that connection to nature, so I have devised a little plastic cup of seed nestled down in the cup holder of a porch chair. I keep the mess swept up and generally have a few birds who find the seed. Charlie and his mate Citrine (because she’s a fairly yellow female) are regulars. They had a baby, Little Belle, who came for a while this spring. You might wonder how I can be so certain it is the same cardinal coming to the feeder. Charlie has patches of white feathers at the tops of his legs. I am pretty sure it’s him when he perches on the cup of seed. At first, I guessed the white feathers were a remnant of a healed injury or maybe just a sign of aging. Eventually I got curious enough to do a search for “white feathers on cardinals”. I mean I couldn’t ask Charlie what was the deal with his white feathers could I? Turns out the feathers are the product of “leucism”. Not a true albino condition, Leucism generates feathers lacking the natural color for the bird and it affects more than just cardinals. If you’ve seen crows with patches of white feathers on their wings, and I have, it’s leucism.
My process with Charlie made me reflect on curiosity about differences. I couldn’t ask Charlie about his feathers but my whole life I’ve been expected to respond to personal questions from complete strangers. I’ve been expected to educate others, even my doctors, about dwarfism. Every October I post thoughts during “Dwarfism Awareness Month”. As I listen to some of the discussions about dismantling racism and other “isms”, I understand the lament from marginalized people that it is exhausting to keep responding to the questions of others. And I realize sometimes I am the “other”. So here is a suggestion: if you are curious about a difference (and I hope you are), do some research. There is a world of information available these days from books to podcasts to movies and specials to online articles. Stop expecting other people to educate you; make themselves vulnerable for your research; and putting the burden on those already carrying a burden. This is NOT a criticism of curiosity! Just an invitation to take that curiosity on as your own adventure, not the responsibility of someone else to carry you through the information aisles.
Image description: red northern cardinal perched on a black iron rod, next to a blue chair with snow on it and a plastic cup seen over the top edge of the cup holder in the chair. The cardinal has white feathers around its belly and top of its legs. White railing and green bush in the background.