John Brodey

The Birdman of Alcatraz
It’s hard to imagine what the Bastille or Devil’s Island were like but we have experienced about as much confinement this past year as any non-felon possibly could have. We won’t be sorry to see it go on any level. We were angry, sad and ultimately left to our own devices in a way most of us have never experienced. We’ve had time to process some of it and be struck by certain things. Surely, I’m not the only one to be dumbfounded by the fact that I really am the age my driver’s license proves me to be. As I move through the checkout like at Safeway with a few bottles of wine, my ego is temporarily deluded as the impossibly young clerk asks my age as the law requires. Knowing it’s not a compliment, I usually respond loudly “95” thinking it will at least get a laugh. Instead of a smile I get a ‘wow, that’s really old’, without a hint of sarcasm. But here we are, trying to make sense of our final years. In retrospect, 2020 turned out to be our chance to take a contemplative pause from the grind of daily life. I wish I knew then what I know now, or I wouldn’t have been so casual about it. I didn’t write that novel or read all the classics, no autobiography for my children (probably a good thing). I did not discover and unleash some incredible talent that had laid dormant within me for so many decades. I watched a fair amount of TV. There, I’ve said it. In my defense, I didn’t think it would be a whole year of waiting and wondering when it would end while being bombarded with wave after wave of disturbing twists and turns in our national discourse. It was a never-ending car wreck that you couldn’t help but watch to its conclusion. It was so distracting that the only thing most people could think of doing was to learn how to make sour dough bread.
It seems the year was best summed up as an opportunity to conduct a personal accounting of our lives. What is important? What do we need to sustain us, really? Everyone has found some answers by now. Not surprisingly, the one thing we all need is…each other. Being denied the personal interaction we all take for granted was disorienting and painful. Especially for those who live alone. After that it varies from person to person. What sustains me became clearer. I felt enormously fortunate to be living where we do and not in a small condo in NYC. It was meaningful to miss so many people I am used to seeing without restriction. Even when we finally could see one another within limits, it was like a gift, a jailhouse visit. I could feel community around me. The little things really do matter. I watched the animals more closely. Habits changed a bit and it seems sunrises can be as beautiful as sunsets. There was even beauty in the architecture of destruction. The scarred trees along highway 12 serve as reminders of what we have lost as well as providing a lesson in how nature sustains us all. I was amazed by the personal creativity that managed to express itself in so many novel ways. I was as saddened by the suffering of so many others as I was comforted by the efforts of those dedicated to helping them so selflessly. I was happy for the reminder that I married a fantastic woman. I’m grateful for it all. Our anchors also became clear, my friends, nature, physical activity, and being involved with a group of wonderful people who strive to make a difference in the world. Thank you to my brothers and sisters at the Valley of the Moon Rotary. We managed to survive which is not a little thing. Much like the legendary Birdman, who in the midst of spirit crushing circumstances, managed to find and nurture something alive that touched his soul. In the end, the private worlds we each inhabit are of our own design and it really makes no difference whether they are large or small so long as you are fully present in them.
Have a great 2021.

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