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LISTENING TO THE HUMMINGBIRDS

Alex M. Stein

I saw a hummingbird outside a few moments ago.  It paused in front of me and gave me a message.

Three times in my life hummingbirds have paused before me to give me messages.

And I’ve been told three is a magic number.

*          *          *

The first time was when I got into college.  I saw a hummingbird flying near my High School when I was trying to decide whether to go home or go browse in the three used-record stores downtown.  The Hummingbird flew in front of me and paused.  He told me to go home, there was news and it was good.

I went home and the letter with my college acceptance was there.  My parents were excited.  I was mostly looking forward to getting away from home, to some other town with different used-record stores.

*          *          *

When I got to college, I took an American literature class.  One of my classmates was named Buck and I thought he was a stupid jock.  (I wouldn’t realize until much later that because I went to Brown, even the stupid jocks there were still really smart.)  Buck loved Hemingway.  He worshipped the staccato brute force of Papa’s prose and the way sentences would wrestle you to the ground and have their way with you before you could fight back.  It was cold, brutish writing, but at least it didn’t last long.

I preferred the slow, elegant prose of Nabokov, who plucked out words like a harpist and bent rhythm and language, playing with tone and meaning and never forgetting the importance of having a sense of humor.

Plus, as I argued in class one week, Hemingway was an anti-Semite and a misogynist.  Buck said I didn’t have the intellectual capacity to appreciate genius like Hemingway.  Later at a party, he deliberately spilled beer on me.

Then he started dating a woman I had a crush on.

I hated him with the bright heat of a thousand suns.  And the full knowledge that that was at least 990 suns too many.

Many years later, I learned Buck killed himself. 

With a rifle.  Like Hemingway.

The day I heard that news, I saw a Hummingbird.  It paused in front of my face and said: “Let it go.  Don’t carry the past and all its hurts around with you all the time.”

*          *          *

People often ask me if hummingbirds literally talk to me or if they somehow communicate telepathically. 

They ask this. 

Often.

*          *          *

And then today.  For the third time in my life, a hummingbird stopped in front of me.

I’ve been feeling lately that I need some guidance.

“Live with an open heart,” the hummingbird said.  “We all need that.  Especially now.”

I stared at him, but before I could respond, he added: “And be careful who you tell about this conversation.  Most people still believe hummingbirds can’t talk.”

And with that, he flew away.

 

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