Like most people, my morning routine is absolutely and invariably set, down to every last detail. At 4:50, my first alarm goes off, I unplug my phone, swipe my thumb across the screen to silence it, and shove the phone somewhere (under a pillow, back on the nightstand, or down by my feet) so that I have to look for it when the next alarm goes off at 5. If I'm out of bed and on my way to the shower at 5:17, I'm exactly on time, but the closer to summer it gets, the further I push the minutes. After a shower is a bowl of cereal and one article from my magazine, then toothbrush, hair-dryer, makeup, work clothes. Sometime around 6:20, I wake up Amar to move his car (we're double-parked), pack my lunch, and head out the door. If my car clock (which is purposely 4 minutes fast) says 6:28 when I pull out of the driveway, I'm early, if it's 6:34, I am exactly on time, and if it's 6:38, I'm late.
I'm pretty sure that it was a 6:32 kind of morning when the turkeys showed up.
As I turned off of our street, I thought it odd to see the car up ahead swerve to the side of the road before it drove off, and as I drove closer noticed a proud-looking tom making his way to the center of the road.
It was a 6:32 kind of morning, so instead of swerving around him, I stopped to let him finish crossing the road (no pun intended), but instead, he came to a halt directly in front of my car. A gray truck approached from the opposite lane, and I thought for sure this would send the bird scurrying on past. But it didn't. He turned slightly and maneuvered himself back to the center of the road, forcing the truck to also stop and join our odd standoff. As if on cue, six hens, slightly larger than large chickens, emerged from a bush and made their way across the two-lane road as their sentry remained at his post astride the double-yellow line.
I've watched geese do this with their young before, and I have to say that it is one of my favorite sights. There's something about the parent-animal's instinct to venture into the open first, and then stand guard there while a small gathering of their young scurry across the dangerous path, that I find comforting: that humanity is natural, innate. That humanity is so essential to survival that, by Darwin's theory of evolution, the quality that endured was the instinct to protect those we are connected to. (Never mind that, in this case, the knightly tom's goal was to defend the half-dozen ladies with whom he will at some point mate. From what I hear, those ladies will eventually guard the paths of their young across the same treacherous streets.)
At 6:34, the female turkeys had made safe passage, but the tom remained. I thought about honking, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. As the hens pecked through the weedy grass for seeds and the occasional insect, their tom clearly felt that the gray truck and myself were still a threat. Without a hint of fear, he began to strut confidently back and forth across the road, not letting either of us pass. Occasionally, he would stop again at the center and turn a slow circle, showing off his fanned tail feathers. He was truly a beautiful creature, and his unshakable courage something to be admired.
Eventually, the gray truck lost patience and drove around the tom when he had completely crossed into my lane. By this point, a car or two had stopped behind me, and I sensed that their patience would soon wear thin as well, so I waited for the turkey to cross back to the opposite side of the road, and I drove on.
I couldn't help but feel sad at having to leave the flock behind and worried that I would too soon forget the tom's dark eye surrounded by an electric blue mask. I turned off the radio and, for the rest of my commute, replayed the story, willing myself to commit it to memory. You see, it is these chance encounters with nature that remind me of my faith, that there is a greater world beyond myself. That, if I remember to pause and look around, I can find tremendous beauty and joy in a super-moon, in the sound of rain in the trees, in the giant turtle who meanders across the road, and in the flock of wild turkeys who stopped my commute on a Tuesday morning.
Truthfully, as I drove to work, I found myself unusually anxious that I wouldn't remember the turkeys by the time I was halfway through my day. I considered calling someone--anyone--to tell them the story. I considered tacking a post-it note that read "Don't forget the turkeys" to the bulletin board at my desk. I fretted over the fact that I knew there had been other "encounters" that had brought me just as much joy, but I couldn't remember a single one (a few would come to me later). I felt guilty that I couldn't remember them.
And then I found comfort in the fact that there had been other encounters, and that there would be more. Perhaps this is what it means to have faith: to know and trust that God will be there to send a turkey across your path, even though you forgot about the last one. Even though you will drive too fast the next day because it is a 6:38 kind of morning and miss the rabbit munching underneath the bush in the front yard.
To give you one last example, as I sat down to write this, I couldn't get the title "Don't let the turkeys get you down" out of my head. I had no idea where I had heard the phrase before, let alone what it meant. After a few false-starts elsewhere, I turned to Google. This image appeared at the top of the list, and my jaw nearly hit the floor.
This mug had sat in our kitchen cabinets for years when I was a child. It was my mother's, but when I asked her, she couldn't tell me where it came from or what the phrase meant either. All I know is that my mother occasionally drank her tea out of that mug while she snacked on cinnamon toast or a Boston cream doughnut. Sometimes, she used it to mix together melted butter, milk, and chocolate to make a quick frosting to spread on graham crackers. And sometimes, I would use it to wash down pancakes and syrup with a gulp of milk. The mug performed its duties diligently throughout the years, waiting at its post in the cabinet for its next assignment, until a crack formed down the side one day and it retired to the trashcan without a second thought. But the phrase lived on in my subconscious for as many years longer, until a flock of turkeys crossed my path at 6:32 on a Tuesday morning. A week later, as I sat down to write the story, I saw the mug on the internet and I laughed. I called my mother to tell her about it and she laughed, and then we talked for an hour. Another small, unexpected, enjoyable moment in an otherwise very busy week. Another much-savored break in the chaos of life.
And so I leave you with this: Even on a 6:38 kind of day, don't forget to stop and look around. And don't let the turkeys get you down.