I can’t remember the last time I sat in my backyard in mid-April, on a towel on the ground eating lunch in the sunshine. It’s possible that I never have. It would take a pandemic and social distancing to create the opening for lunch al fresco at the Lyon house. The neighborhood around me was oddly quiet, too. As I looked into the sky, I saw a blue jay way up high on a telephone line. It sat there for a long time without any fear of a rumbling truck down below or any disturbance around it. It had a long twig in its beak. I thought it would fly off to finish its nest building, but it didn’t. Silly bird, I thought, there’s so much to do and you’re taking a break on the telephone line.
Then I felt oddly embarrassed. I began to learn something about myself as I continued to stare at the bird. The quiet of the day, without back-to-back meetings and urgent matters, enabled me to perch on my lawn for an extended time, too. I truly wanted the bird to fly away so I could get back to thoughts about my work, but it didn’t leave. The longer it stayed, the longer I had to think about eating more slowly than before, soaking up more sun than I would have, and digesting more than my lunch, but also some new expectations.
We’re all creatures in nature, but surely there’s a difference. What is it? In Mishnah Pirkei Avot (3:14) we learn that Rabbi Akiva used to say, “Beloved of God is man (sic) for he was created in the image of God; but greater still was the love [shown him] in that it was made known to him that he was created in the image of God, as it is said, For in the image of God made He man (Genesis 9:6).” Rabbi Samuel Karff taught about this verse, “It is one thing to be loved; it is another thing to know that you are loved.” The difference is our awareness of our Creator, and, in that awareness, our discovery of irrefutable and unconditional love.
During these days of COVID-19, and all that it has come to mean, we can all find comfort in what God’s love can mean to us, what love between us can help us know, and what self-love can enable us to be.
Eventually, the bird on the telephone line flew off to build its nest and to be, well, a bird. I picked up my plates and towel from the ground and finished my day with deeper appreciation of my Creator’s love, greater thanks for those who are sharing this pandemic period with me at home, and increasing awareness of self-care as a necessary part of moving on from here, one day. I wish for you the same and much more.
Rabbi David Lyon is Senior Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Houston, Texas.