When I was a little girl, I was pretty good at entertaining myself. I made up all kinds of pretend worlds and games that I quietly indulged in alone. I could lie in bed for hours and day dream the night away, or sit contently in the car as long as there was a window to look through and a radio.
One game I remember playing, was bird watching. Birds are beautiful and amazing little creatures. I didn’t bird watch with binoculars and a whistle, holding a bird species identification book and cataloguing my findings, I watched them and made up stories about them. Birds didn’t simply land in a tree for a moment and then take off never to be seen again. Each one had a life, a purpose, and family. They were on their way to or from a magical place or secret hideout. They were looking for their friends, who weren’t just birds. Friends included bunnies, squirrels, even bugs. Sometimes they got lost. Sometimes they played in the rain. Sometimes they showed off just because they knew I was watching.
When a bright red cardinal, or other colorful bird caught my eye, I would think, “What are you doing here, you pretty little thing? You should be in an exotic jungle or enchanted forest.” I imagined the colorful birds were the princes and princesses of the bird world. When the other birds saw them, they marveled at their beauty and felt honored to interact with them. Some of the colorful birds were gracious and humble about their status, but some were mean and arrogant. And although I loved seeing the rare beauties, I remember my favorite birds were the tiny, little swallows. Probably because at first, I thought that’s what baby birds looked like. But even as I grew older, I had a soft spot in my heart for the common, brown and gray swallow. They boasted no exquisite features, yet they were lovely. Their song was not unique or melodic, yet they sang with their whole heart. Their wingspan was not impressive like an eagle, yet they flew just as high.
When I grew up, I realized that I people-watched in much the same way I used to bird watch. When I played the piano at Lee’s Restaurant for hours on end, my eyes wandered from table to table imagining the lives of the patrons munching on fried chicken and onion rings. Soon, I became an expert in the subject, guessing what era and style of music they might want to hear, and it usually got me a tip from them before they left. I knew who wanted to hear “Sentimental Journey,” “Hotel California,” or something by Willie Nelson based on their clothes, age, and personality. And even when I got the song wrong, and they left without so much as a nod to the piano player, at least imagining their story entertained me, even though I was supposed to be entertaining them.
I still people watch, and bird watch. And I’m still impressed by grandeur and impressiveness that some display. But I still find myself in the end, rooting for the underdog. I mean under-bird.