Cause for Pause

Pied wagtail

It was July 2019, a warm, sunny day, and I was in North Devon, wandering through a busy shopping street, when a most beautiful pied wagtail flew down onto the pavement. I have a soft spot for wagtails and this one was truly lovely – his black and white markings so delicately drawn and his movements so cheerful as his distinctive black tail bobbed up and down. He dotted in and out amongst the shoppers, pausing every now and then to tilt his head, his bright eyes no doubt spying out something to eat amidst the toing and froing. He repeatedly got out of the way at just the right time, darting up and down from the shop-fronts and appearing totally unflustered by the busyness and noise all around.

Had I simply glanced him, not stopping as I did to admire and observe him more closely, I wouldn’t have noticed that he was missing a foot. His dainty legs, that look for all the world like little twigs, were not a matching pair, for one had a foot and the other didn’t. It didn’t seem to hold him back or visibly impact his movement – though how could I tell how much the problem changed his life? I wondered what might have befallen him to leave him like this…

Turns out that wagtails are particularly susceptible to mites that lead to severe deformity or loss of their feet – I researched it later that day. Someone has written a thesis on precisely this subject, testing out various possible theories and arriving at this conclusion. Poor little creatures, how horrible. I had imagined a close shave with a cat or perhaps an injury sustained through contact with waste or pollution.

It made me think how easy it is to assume we probably know why things we see are as they are or appear to be. How much better it can be to really know the backstory – for even if we think we have a lot of information and even with a healthy imagination, it is so easy to be completely mistaken. In life we don’t always make or find the time to truly find out why things are as they are or appear to be, and for sure we don’t always take the time even if we have it. Assumptions build up like the layers of a growing sea-shell…one leading to another and another, and before we know it we have a really strong, multi-layered perception of something or someone that may be entirely based on error. It may be an inherent aspect of human nature, but it gives me cause for pause. What if I’m wrong? What if the situation, the person and/or the relationship that I think I have sussed out is not how it appears? How many times has that already happened, and to what cost? What if I asked, inquired or checked instead of assuming? Hmm…

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