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SECOND CHANCES
October 6, 2003
 
Once again, no hummingbirds came to the Geranium Farm this summer. Not a bird. They did come to other people's gardens, though, and the other people would sometimes write me and tell me about them.

A couple of people took pity and sent me replicas of hummingbirds. Very real-looking. I hung them in our windows, where real hummingbirds might see them and wonder if they weren't related in some way, maybe fly down and ask.

One person sent me a pinup of a hummingbird, which is on my refrigerator.

A few times, hummingbirds showed up at the places I visited and I got to see them feed. That was fun.

I read a fine book about hummingbirds, and had fun planting hummingbird attractants in the garden. Scarlet runner beans. The tumpet vine, of course. Red Impatiens. Fuschia. Monarda. A bunch of Columbines that should bloom next year. Because, of course, I will try again next year.

Today is Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. If you're orthodox, you don't eat or even drink water all day, and you're at an all-day service. All day. Outsiders think this must be terrible, but the people who observe it look forward to it. It's hard, they say, but it's a day all about second chances. About turning your life in another direction and doing things differently. It's never too late to change. Never too late to try again. It's never wrong to hope that things might be better, or to do what you can to make them better.

I don't think hummingbirds avoid my garden because they know of my sins, although I certainly have sins that might give them pause, if they knew what sin was. But sin is something only humans have -- the animals don't sin. Don't know the first thing about it.

Such a relief it is, to ackowledge our failings. It's not the current American way -- that way is to minimize them, to psychologize them away, litigate them away, find someone else to blame for them. After such a tap dance, it's refreshing to be able to say, "You know, I did that. It was wrong and I wish with all my heart that I hadn't done it. I'd give a lot to undo it. But I did it and I am sorry." That's a clean thing to say. Something an adult says. An honest adult.

The hummingbirds have gone off to the south, to Mexico, taking their clean consciences with them, leaving their ethically compromised human admirers back here, where the weather is turning cold. All the beauty of the garden will wither soon, all at once, kissed by a killing frost at the end of this month or early next month. The work of life in the garden will go underground, steady and slow in the dark earth. Waiting for the spring, when the second chance -- or the third or the twentieth -- comes again.
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