I Can Do Hard Things

This hydrangea is in my sister’s backyard. Hydrangeas always make me think of my grandmother’s house in summer.

Miles run today: 8

Baby birds in nests around my sister’s house: 7

Bunnies spotted on our run today: 1 (yay!)

My mom is an avid bird watcher, and our yard while I was growing up was Bird Central.

She knows all the birdie names and their quirky behaviors. Sometimes she and I would sit at the kitchen table in front of the big picture window with cups of tea. We would watch the birds come to the feeder and bird-type our friends and relatives.

House finches were so convivial, the bluebirds true nuclear families with two working parents, the chickadees nature’s hyper cheerleaders. Doves were dim, pecking around the ground, picking up the bits and pieces left by others. I wanted to scream, “You have wings, you lazy bums!”

My mom would get excited when a goldfinch would scoot in and make a rare, flashy appearance. She agonized over the bright red sugar water for the hummingbirds who zipped in and worked around the ants who tried to hijack their food supply.

And forget about it when a baby owl made his home in a tree right across from the window over the kitchen sink. I received nightly reports via phone in my dorm room.

My parents are staying over at my sister’s house this week, and my sister’s house is now Bird Central.

Mommy and Daddy Bluebird have made a home in the bluebird house on my sister’s deck, and we watch as one parent brings food while the other watches for predators, then the other parent takes his turn. They are very courteous and careful with each other, and the mother bluebird doesn’t seem too offended that her husband looks more smashing in his snazzy bright feathers.

But around in the side yard is where the real action is happening. The Cardinal Family has built a nest in the butterfly bush, and the (as my sister calls them) “cute-ugly” babies are starting to spill out of the nest.

My mom knows her birdie facts and said that the cardinal babies will have to leave the nest and remain on the ground, defenseless, for up to 48 hours. They have to weather the tough stuff and gather their strength before they leave the nest. Maybe that’s why they choose bushes for their nests instead of trees, where the foliage starts up higher on the trunk: the bushes’ leaves might help shield the babies from big dogs and lawnmowers.

The baby cardinals’ rite of initiation tied in so perfectly to what Anna Elliott over at “Writer Unboxed” posted about today. Some tasks seem insurmountable, and you have to find some source of inner strength to continue.

One of her personal mantras that I loved was “I can do hard things.”

In many situations in life, the easy way out is so appealing. If you’re working on completing a novel, there are several points where you could give up. Characters become cantankerous and don’t do what you want them to do, plot twists don’t work the way they did inside your head, and later on down the road during the editing process, that beautiful scene you wrote, you know… the one with the unforgettable description and heart-tugging moment… it has to be removed. Forever.

I think Anna Elliott had it just right: you have to remember that only you can tell this story just this way.

And for me, I try to look back on personal triumphs; things I did that I wasn’t sure I could accomplish. Running a marathon and finishing a novel gave me confidence about long-term goals that I’m sure I didn’t have at age 21.

But I also think about the baby cardinals. There are no shortcuts for them, no intermediate branch for them to cling to instead of going all out for the ground. From early on, they fly away knowing that they conquered something big. As a reward, they get brilliant red plumage to share with the world.

What is your internal dialogue when you come up against a major challenge? What is your best advice for others when they are confronted with a brick wall or feeling exposed on the ground to metaphorical predators?