The loss of something beautiful

by Steve Brock on February 7, 2011

I saw an owl lying in the street.

The sighting of the creature had all the earmarks of a classic travel experience:

  • surprise at discovering this perfect specimen resting along the side of the road, dead but appearing as if asleep;
  • wonder at its size – about 20 inches long – and color and the intricacies of its features;
  • awe at the complexity of design in its feather patterns, a masterful weaving of line, tone and texture;
  • curiosity at how it got there.

The intriguing aspect of this travel experience is that it occurred a few days ago on a short trip – a very short trip – a walk just a few blocks from my home.

My wife had seen the majestic bird while walking our dog earlier that day and she told me about it. So I went back to that spot prepared to see an oddity – we don’t witness many owls in our neighborhood. I left, however, having experienced something more.

On the surface, it appeared to be merely a well-preserved if exotic form of road-kill. But that demeans both the stateliness of its appearance and its impact on me. When I got home, both my wife and I surprised ourselves by sharing, almost sheepishly, that the owl caused both of us to feel a profound sadness. I wasn’t sure why our feelings about a dead bird would be so strong.

Until this morning.

This morning, my wife informed me that the parents of one of our son’s friends are getting divorced.

As she said the words, I felt exactly as I did a few days earlier when I witnessed the dead owl. And in a moment as crystal clear as it was incomplete, I understood why.

In both cases, I realized I am mourning the loss of something beautiful and magnificent.

I must confess that in the hectic pace of each day’s to-do list, I could easily have heard the news of a couple’s marriage collapsing and felt badly for them. I could have acknowledged it but let it go, chalking it up as just another casualty of marriage in our culture.

The owl, however, in a mystery I’ll probably never fully fathom, softened me and broke me open. Thus, when I heard of the divorce, I reacted not just with shock, but with intense sorrow. I mourn at the passing of something once so beautiful and now lost. I assign no blame: I neither know the circumstances enough nor do I have the right. I simply grieve for a couple that is no longer a couple.

Moreover, I feel this loss today more profoundly not just because of the inherent pain and tragedy of the divorce, but because of a curious incident that has nothing and yet everything to do with today’s news:

I saw an owl lying in the street.

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Illustration by Mark Evans, Seattle Times

I read an interesting article on video conferencing a few weeks ago. It starts with these lines:

“In TV ads in 1993, AT&T pitched a vision of a near-future absolutely brimming with live video communication.

From a busy mom tucking her kids in bed from a video phone booth and a barefoot exec participating in a business meeting from the beach, narrator Tom Selleck confidently promised that “You will!” soon be doing those Jetsonian tricks.

Seventeen years later, the technology is catching up.

The question is whether anyone wants to use it.” [click to continue…]

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