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The hummingbabies turned two weeks old yesterday. In hummingbird time they’ve already lived approximately 1.2 percent of their lives, as the average lifespan of these tiny, winged acrobats is a mere three years. But do they themselves think it’s “mere”?  Or is it just long enough to do what they need to do… possibly several times over? For instance, once she leaves the nest, the female hummingbird will drink nectar, catch insects, select a territory, find a suitable (or at least fertile) mate, scavenge for nest materials, build the nest, lay, protect and hatch her eggs, brood on her young to keep them warm, feed the babies, protect them from predators, and give them a few flying lessons before moving on to repeat the cycle again. It seems like quite the complete life, and yet, for a human who gets so many more years than the hummingbird, I’m often overwhelmed, and even saddened, by the ever-present sound of the clock ticking, as time marches on.

As of late (meaning it’s midnight and I’m not in bed), I’ve put a little effort into thinking about why this is so. I guess the word that keeps coming to mind is “complete.” The hummingbird seems to have a nice, planned-out, structured, complete life. Yes, there is deviation from one hummingbird to the next, most likely brought on by illness, injury, or premature death, but I bet there isn’t a single hummingbird out there who wakes up one day and says “I think I’ll pass on this nesting and having kids thing, and pursue a more exotic life style.” No, I am quite sure that the hummingbird’s genetic blueprint leaves very little room for variation, and in doing so, frees her from the nerve-racking contemplation that so many of us humans face in deciding our life’s course.

With my 20-year high school reunion looming just around the block, it’s probably only natural that I should think of where my life has taken me, or rather, where I have taken my life. What I don’t understand is this constant nagging feeling I get from wondering how I got here, almost as though the reins were in someone else’s hands. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life, but it’s not exactly what I thought it’d be. Crossing that stage on graduation night all those years ago, I could have been anything, but now my life is on a trajectory to something. And it’s the something that makes me quake in fear at the thought of time falling away.

Now, I’m not saying that we, as humans, can’t change the course of our lives. I myself have done so many times. But, there’s still a momentum that builds, with every decision we make, that propels us towards that something. Whereas, in the case of the hummingbird, there’s not much of a label you can put on the course of their lives. They were born, they bred, they sucked nectar, and they died. With humans, there’s always a description that goes with the individual person. Some examples: “He was a powerful lawyer who made millions and had homes on every coast. She became a hermit whose only company were her twenty some-odd cats. He could have been such a success if only he had fill in the blank.” It’s this last case, the big “if only,” that really terrifies me. Just the thought that the decisions we make, often on a whim, determine our fate. Of course the hummingbird makes choices (like flying too close to a window) that might determine her fate, but at least she doesn’t live her life with the cogs in her mind constantly spinning about what she would’ve, should’ve, could’ve, done.  She just lives.

I suppose to live like the hummingbird could be possible, but it would require a conscious effort. It seems strange that to “just live” would require so much work. Although some people, I imagine, must do it quite easily. I even saw a bumper sticker a little while back that said, “The Meaning of Life is To Live It.” I remember snickering silently to myself that the person who owned that car was probably a complete loser who used his “just live it” approach as an excuse for not achieving or doing. Or, I thought, maybe he had never experienced a real challenge like the loss of a loved one, an illness, or any other of life’s mind-numbing catastrophes. But now, with some perspective, it dawns on me that maybe this guy had been through his share of grief and struggle and had made a conscious choice to “just live it.” Maybe he had even watched a mother hummingbird lovingly nurse her babies and he saw just how simple it all is. Breed. Suck Nectar. Die.

Hmmm. A thought for us all, and maybe, just maybe…a new bumper sticker.

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