“Avoid nesting sea gulls. If you are walking beyond the turnstile, please stay on the paths, wear a hat, and carry a stick overhead.”
—from the pamphlet called “Better Living on Star Island: Your Star Island Guide"
This was my fourth summer on the youth staff at a conference on Star Island, located off the shore of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Many sea gulls nest on the rocks of the island’s rim, away from the buildings, but walking on the rocks on the island’s perimeter had become one of my most favorite things to do over the years. I would climb up and down the rocks, take some photos, and sit in the sun all by myself. Sea gulls always screeched when I entered their territory. I was amused by their fuzzy gray babies crying and running around in response.
One afternoon last year, I heard particularly aggressive cries. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bird swooshing around. I was looking down the treacherous path, balancing myself from rock to rock. Suddenly something very heavy hit my head with a thud. I was not sure exactly what had happened, but when I touched my unprotected head—I have very little hair and wore no hat—there was blood on my hand.
An angry bird must have hit me on purpose. I could have been knocked off the rock. This awareness scared me. I picked up a stick and held it high all the way back to the conference center. It was awkward to carry a stick overhead while trying to navigate my way up and down the rocks.
This year, I carried a stick from the beginning. Each bird’s cry sounded like a war call. As I approached the area where I had been attacked, a bird or two began swooshing down toward me. I felt extremely nervous and wondered if my stick would do anything to protect me.
With tremendous effort, I forced each leg to move toward my favorite spot. Eventually the fear took over, and my body refused to move. After all, the rocks belong to the birds, and I was intruding their territory. I turned away.
As I retreated, I could not help wondering how fears from past traumas may have affected my life. Who are the angry birds in my life? Do I avoid opportunities in fear of risks? What are the sticks I carry in my heart so as not to be hurt again?
Living in this country as a minority immigrant—as “other”—has contributed to my fear of rejection, disapproval, and being left out. I swallow my words to protect the feelings of people—especially of the dominant culture—around me. I also use big words or overwork just to prove my abilities. Why can’t I just be me and be loved?
Dear God, help me heal from my traumas so that I can fully express my potential to live and love. Amen.