Out of the dimming sky a speck appeared,
then another, and another.
It was the starlings going to roost.
They gathered deep in the distance, flock sifting into flock,
and strayed towards me, transparent and whirling, like smoke.
They seemed to unravel as they flew,
lengthening in curves, like a loosened skein.
I didn’t move;
they flew directly over my head for half an hour.
Each individual bird bobbed and knitted up and down
in the flight at apparent random, for no known reason except
that that’s how starlings fly, yet all remained perfectly spaced.
The flocks each tapered at either end from a rounded middle, like an eye.
Overhead I heard a sound of beaten air, like a million shook rugs, a muffled whuff.
Into the woods they sifted without shifting a twig,
right through the crowns of trees, intricate and rushing, like wind.
Could tiny birds be sifting through me right now,
birds winging through the gaps between my cells,
touching nothing, but quickening in my tissues, fleet?
~Annie Dillard from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
Watching the starlings’ murmuration is a visceral experience – my heart leaps to see it happen above me. I feel queasy following its looping amoebic folding and unfolding path.
Thousands of individual birds move in sync with one another to form one massive organism existing solely because each tiny component anticipates and cooperates to avoid mid-air collisions. It could explode into chaos but it doesn’t. It could result in massive casualties but it doesn’t. They could avoid each other altogether but they don’t – they come together with a purpose and reasoning beyond our imagining. Even the silence of their movement has a discernible sound.
We humans are made up of just such cooperating component parts, that which is deep in our tissues, programmed in our DNA. Yet we don’t learn from our designed and carefully constructed building blocks. We have become frighteningly disparate and independent creatures, going our own way bumping and crashing without care.
We have lost our internal moral compass.
We shoot each other in the backs, even during school lessons or listening to music or engaging in acts of worship. We watch each other bleed and die.
And do nothing yet again.
The sound of silence is muffled weeping.