Michael and I were wandering around Toulouse a few weeks ago. I was recovering from a difficult hair cut (so many ordinary things are difficult in a new language) when we stumbled upon a small art gallery, just closing. In the window was a sculpture. A barefoot child, her clothes ragged around her body, stands on a tree trunk. She is surrounded by crows: crows sweeping down on her, on the ground around her, perched in her hands. The face of the child is quiet, gentle, peaceful. I could have watched her forever, but it was late, and we were hungry. We left her and her birds behind us and wandered down the charming small streets to find dinner. Yet somehow, she came with me. I found myself haunted by this piece long after the trauma of the haircut had been shampooed away.
It was her grace. Crows can be frightening birds—they can be mean, they can eat the crops, they have a bad reputation as harbingers of bad luck. But here, this child welcomes the crows. They perch on her and around her, gathering, swooping, resting in her presence. In the face of her welcome, these frightening creatures become beautiful. In the face of their cacophonous company, she becomes more beautiful. They make each other whole.
In a way, it is the challenge of our time. All around us right now are, there is the cawing and the shadow of difficulty. Wars are raging. Inflation is soaring. Our rights are crumbling. We fight one another and we fight the virus and we fight ourselves, turning our insecurity or unhappiness into our insatiable desire for oil and plastic and stuff we don’t need. We can hear the wingbeat of disaster, feel the claws grazing our flesh. To be human is often to be afraid or to be angry, to be grieving or to be numb.
And yet. This is the world as it is. The sculpture asks, what would it be like to open to all of it? To make new sense of the pain in the world, and to hold that in that pain is the possibility of healing, of connection, of creation, of kindness. How would we treat each other if we understood our fundamental connection with one another, with all living beings, with our own shadow and light? What would it be like if we could look our fears and difficulties in the face with compassion, with love? What would that world be like?
Perhaps this is the world my friends and I are trying to make as we live in this experimental way in our big communal home. So much we are facing into is frightening. Even inside the boundaries of our peaceful grounds, there are plenty of crows. We have invested money together, are trying to maintain a big old property together, are (mostly) lost in a new language together, have uprooted at least some part of our lives and our identities together. The scary things swoop and caw all around us. But when we hold out our hands to those scary things, and when we hold out our hands to each other no matter what we are facing, our fears become less fearsome. Together, we make the scary things beautiful.
The sculptors who created her might have been saying this. They might have been saying something else. But they were surely offering us something about what it is to be human. Joan Coderch and Javier Malavia sculpt the human form, and their deep passion is to create the expression of emotion and values in bronze. They are fundamentally co-creative, using their four hands for each sculpture as they move through the artistic process. You can see more about them and their work here. They have named her (or him, or they, as this sculpture conforms to no gendered norms) Scarecrow, after the Wizard of Oz.
But this scarecrow does not scare the crows. And she does not lack the brains of her Oz-ian namesake; she knows many things. She knows that those things that frighten us are powerful. She knows that in many traditions, crows are the mouthpiece of the underworld, or have the energy of the trickster, or have the capability, as scavengers, of turning death into life. Perhaps the child knows that to shriek and run, to try to keep them away, is to amplify the fear or the anger, to throw fuel on its fire. She offers a refuge and a welcome. She understands that she cannot keep the crows from existing and so the idea is to co-exist, to love.
We have found a way to bring her home, to nestle her amongst our ancient trees alongside the stream. The real crows caw gently to her in the slanting evening light. When we look at her, we see possibility, we see hope, we see beauty. We see the truth of our interdependence. We will try to live into her vision, try to face into our inevitable difficulties with kindness, openness, and welcome.
(If you enjoyed this reflection and you’d like a little more on how to live into the fullness of your humanity, you might want to check out the book Carolyn Coughlin and I have just written: Unleash Your Complexity Genius. You can preorder it here.)