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Magan Chin / Columbia Daily Spectator

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“If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.” – George Elliot

I am, and always have been, in a search for tangible meaning in my life. When I was about 14 years old, I held this desire for something I thought was unattainable until I found hope in two turtle doves.

My childhood bedroom had a window that peered out onto my front lawn, on which my father placed a tall metallic bird feeder. Next to it was a chestnut fence, a popular resting spot for the birds. One spring morning, an hour or so before I had to catch the bus to school, I remember waking up drowsily, opening the shades covering my window, and seeing two turtle doves sitting right next to each other on the fence. They stood in silence, together and alone—not another bird in sight. I stared at them for a while, expecting a change in posture or environment, like the arrival of another bird or for them to fly away. But the scene remained still. Not dwelling on the curious sight, I left my bedroom and went through my morning routine. When I reentered my room many minutes later, I noticed that the birds were in their same exact positions.

For the first 10 years of my life, I was a lonely and aloof child. I’d spend hours running around in the spacious woods of rural upstate New York, yelling at and joking around with my imaginary friends. Looking back now, I feel an alienating yet comforting nostalgia in the simplicity of letting my consciousness leave my body and manifest in fantastical characters and scenes: going treasure hunting with my allies, throwing fireballs and lightning bolts at my enemies, having reflective conversations about family and life with mentally-constructed companions. Although relying on my imagination to make sense of my life characterized my preteen youth, it ultimately limited the meaning I would draw from the world. In spite of whatever characters or ordeals I’d put myself in, they were always extensions of my consciousness—they were always confined by my knowledge and creativity.

There were times during this imaginative period when I’d become hyperaware of the illusion and feel frustrated with the fallacy of it all. I’d be disappointed with how these alternate realities weren’t really showing or teaching me anything I hadn’t already known. I would thereafter wonder if there really was anything fully beyond myself. I’d look up to the sky and ponder, searching for messages in the clouds to tell me that there was someone watching or guiding me. During thunderstorms, I’d run outside and scream demands to the world, begging for signs of a creator, asking nature for a strike of thunder to prove the presence of a transcendent orchestrator, of an intangible essence that existed truly outside my imagination. My calls were never answered. I felt more than frustrated and disappointed—I felt betrayed. Each ignored shout to the void culminated with the next to suggest that I had only myself to rely on, and this is how I matured, how I began to become more independent.

By the time I was a teenager, I had said goodbye to my imaginary friends and my existential questions and began to enjoy life in its finite offerings. Learning at school and socializing with real people slowly took precedence in my life, and my attention shifted from the universal to the material. But something about 14-year-old me watching those two turtle doves sitting curiously still on the fence reignited my curiosity. For some miraculous reason, questions about my place in the cosmos reemerged in my soul. I decided to play a game with destiny, to resume my conversations with the universe—but this time it wasn’t going to be one-sided.

Staring at the two turtle doves, I whispered under my breath: “Show me a sign of my future.” As my lips shut, it was as if someone had pressed the play button on a paused video. Over the heads of the two turtle doves, a tidal wave of sparrows came flying from every direction. Chaos ensued, yet the two turtle doves remained unperturbed. They stayed together until eventually, a single sparrow from the swarm flew directly into the belly of one of the turtle doves. The targeted partner flew away, leaving the other dove alone. The storm died down and the final frame depicted a single turtle dove sitting in silence, totally alone. I was so shocked by the response to my naïve command that I whipped out my phone to take a picture of the lonely dove to remember the moment. As I opened the camera app and moved my finger over the bright white circle, the dove flew away.

For months afterward, I would ponder the prophecy shown to me by the universe. Sometimes I interpreted it as a warning that I’d lose a loved one. I came up with theories where I was the dove that fled or even the sparrow that broke up the partnership. Sometimes I thought it was all a coincidence and it meant nothing. Nevertheless, for the years to come, the imagery would find relevance in my life, from my grandfather’s quiet death to the various rifts in relationships I’ve since endured. And as I became more comfortable with the prophecy, I would stop thinking about it as something dreadful or ominous. It was no longer a foreboding scheme of predetermination.

After moving to New York City, the turtle doves would come to mind whenever I’d see pigeons perching or eating bread crumbs on the sidewalk, or on the occasional Butler all-nighter when listening to the sparrows singing their songs on the ledge outside Ref at 5 in the morning. Beyond emphasizing the importance of caring for the people in my life, the bird prophecy ensured that finding meaning in places where I might not expect is something I’ll never take for granted. The turtle doves became an emotional reminder that because I’ll never know when the world will separate me from the people I care about, I should strive to love and respect them for as long as I can.

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