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Ahhh, February. An entire month to celebrate love, how nice. It does feel like we could use as much focus on love as we can get right now, as many examples of love and loving as possible. One summer, a cardinal couple appeared in our garden and taught me a little something about love.

Before an enormous number of cats moved into our neighborhood, we fed the birds at multiple feeders in our garden. We sat at our window and watched and got to know them throughout the season. On this particular summer, we had the privilege of watching a cardinal family at the feeders. Actually, since they prefer safflower seeds and not many other birds seem to like those much since it’s quite a lot of effort, the cardinals got their very own, dedicated feeder to sit at for hours. We got to watch their babies grow up and see the dynamic of the adult male and female birds, who we cleverly called “The Boy” and “The Girl.”

I always felt they provided a nice example of a loving relationship. The Boy was just the most fabulous daddy and partner, cracking the hard safflower shells with his beak and feeding his family. And The Girl, an example of a strong, capable female who is still able to accept and welcome helpful, loving gestures, not necessarily for herself but for the one who is making the offering. She patiently sits and waits while he cracks the seeds and feeds her. Because he wants to take care of her. Because he wants to show her he loves her. Because he wants to feel like he’s doing a good job taking care of his family.

Of course, they both know she’s perfectly capable of feeding herself. But the way she shows her love is to accept his loving gesture, to receive the love he is extending to her in this way. This is how she shows her love to him.

And then there’s another kind of love The Girl showed me one hot summer day.

She’s a funny one, the female, capable of being complex and complicated and wonderful. She doesn’t go into the birdbath often, but when she does, well, prepare for a show. She is, at first, the perfect elegant lady. Then she looks around, as if to assess whether anyone is watching, and only then does she throw caution to the wind and begin to splash in the water in such an ecstatic way that it surprises me. She splashes around with absolutely no care for anything other than the sensation of the pure bliss of playing in the water, of the dance, of the way the coolness feels on her feathers, of the way her breath eases at the feeling of freedom and relief, of abandoning the conditioning of a lifetime. When she finally stops moving, her once pristinely-laying feathers are going every which way, and she looks genuinely, a mess. A wild, satisfyingly discombobulated and pleased version of her former proper self.

And I can relate. I can see through her example the other, freer version of myself.
Who is still here.
Who is still me.

And I know that underneath a lifetime of behaving properly and being taught to try to think and feel and act a certain way, the wild is still very much here.

And that the wild is the truest version of me. I feel her when I’m at the river, when I’m surrounded by trees, when I listen to the wind, when I dance, when I’m in water. I feel her, she’s here. Yes, she’s a little buried and banged up. But she is still. very much. here.

I’m just learning to listen to her again, to remember her, to be with her, to hear her.

I watch The Girl because I can relate, well, and because she looks adorable with her feathers all mussed up AND she looks okay about it. She doesn’t seem embarrassed.
She seems relieved.
She seems content.
Maybe before, she was trying to be
Trying to be an adult.
Trying to be what she was expected to be.

But when she let that drop away,

And now – she’s better for it, isn’t she? She’s a better mom, a better partner, a better friend for having had her moment of joyful bliss, of loving herself, of accepting what she has offered for herself – offering and accepting the loving gesture of A MOMENT of feeling totally and completely her free self, her Truer Self. A self who remembers more fully who she is. A self who is at once offering herself a loving gesture and accepting it, receiving the love she is extending to herself in this way.

Thank you to the dear cardinals, to The Boy and to The Girl, for coming into our lives that summer and teaching me, as only nature can, about receiving a gesture of love. Of course the questions prompted here are worth spending some time with:
How do I extend love to the people in my life?
How do I receive love from the people in my life?
– and –
How do I extend love to the me in my life?
How do I receive love from the me in my life?

But for the right now we’re in, I ask you this:

What MOMENT of joy, of freedom or of relief can you offer yourself today?

Please, please – get thee to your very own version of The Girl’s birdbath – quickly. And as often as possible.
I am so pleased to remember The Boy and The Girl by featuring them in this slow-stitch project and February’s printable calendar page, the pattern and printable are both available in my shop.

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