Thursday, August 08, 2013

Finding your flock, and letting it go

TALLAHASSEE — I was standing in a milling crowd last Saturday outside the Leon County Civic Center, using a hand to shade my eyes from the high, white-hot sun and scanning the sea of faces and forms for a glimpse of my daughter.

And I began to think about flocks.

The rest of our group waited by a student busker blowing some blues and gathering bills in his saxophone case, and I wandered out to set up a second position to keep lookout for her. The crowd was so thick, the noise of voices so loud and the space so wide that I feared she would pass us by without finding us.

Minutes earlier, the civic center had been filled. Few stadium seats were left empty by family and friends that had come to observe the summer commencement exercises, and black-robed graduates had crammed the floor. Now all of those people were exiting into the noonday sun.

For a minute, I put my other hand over the back of my head and felt the burn.

Delayed on the lower level, the grads finally spread into the waiting crowd like a black stain, and I was reminded of watching flocks of birds moving in giant swirls against an autumn sky. Someone studying flocking patterns should set up outside one of these events, I thought.

Maybe it was the heat.

Black robes flapping like the wings on a murder of crows, grads found their families. The larger mass of people began breaking into tighter groups, offering hugs and flowers, trying to grab snapshots with their phones. I moved to avoid photo-bombing one group and got in the way of another.

For no apparent reason, everyone started moving toward the stairs and flowing down to the parking lot enmasse, like birds instinctively following a fellow from the flock that had only slipped off the wire.

I spotted my son, standing a head taller than the crowd between us, and he gestured for me to return to the fold. “We found her,” he said when I zigzagged to his side. “She’s coming this way.”

Reunited, we went for lunch, then returned to take photos in a courtyard and outside Doak Campbell Stadium. The flame on the Seminole statue’s lance couldn’t have burned much hotter than the pavement (and the feathers on the staff looked suspiciously like birds on a wire). We stopped for fountain drinks to refresh us, and we began the long drive back home.

She won’t remain here for long; she already has plans for relocating, and expectations that I will help her go, that I will support her absence as she takes wing on her own for the first time.

That evening, standing in the street of our quiet neighborhood, I watched the shadows of birds flying in formation, circling and diving and returning to the line heading past the trees to somewhere new. Somewhere unseen and far away.

I wondered where they were going, and if they would always return.

Peace.
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(This was my column for PanamaCity.com and The News Herald this week.)
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