A number of years ago, I wrote a short story called The Life of Birds.** In the story, a young somewhat adrift fellow named Ben oversees a small nature sanctuary. While leading a group of bird watchers through the forest, he points out a brightly colored orange and black oriole in the canopy. An off topic conversation then ensues about baseball teams named for birds – St Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, etc – but Ben is hauled back into his childhood:
“Bishie had enjoyed baseball…but she loved that baseball team; there was a difference. Although Ben could never quite explain why, he had come to feel the same, deeply.”
“He had not thought much about Bishie until shortly before joining the sanctuary and now here in this wood she had alighted on his shoulder: an overdue memory admonishing him with a wink and an elbow in the ribs. She had been the namer of things for the young boy – an Ann Sullivan to Ben’s Helen Keller, placing the object in one hand while spelling the word that named it in the other. The difference was that Bishie had given him two things with the same name and he had gone forward into the world, slightly askew, smiling goofily, like a kid showing off his new shoes on the wrong feet.”
“As a boy, he had simply and with the utmost understanding assumed the bird and the baseball team to have been named for the same reason (somewhat like… ah ha, there is an unusual bird with qualities a, b, and c. I shall name it “X”. And look, over there… a fine young bunch of baseball players. They too have qualities a, b, and c and although these are baseball qualities and not bird qualities, it doesn’t really matter since I admire them both in the same sort of way. As such, I shall also name this team of fine young baseball players: “X”). It was fine for them both to be named “X”, because “X” was what was important and which had meaning. Not an accepted meaning nor, in most circles, even an acceptable meaning; however, it was meaning enough for a child to take a few timid steps forward into the world and that was precisely what Ben did. Later, as a young man turning to science, he had begun to stumble.”
“Despite feeling vaguely uncomfortable, the young man of science established a new sense of order with this shape-shifting name (of course, the bird, Icterus galbula, has nothing whatsoever to do with the baseball team; that would be as preposterous as believing the San Francisco Giants to be a yahooing, tobacco-chewing, rump-slapping band of Gullivers jogging ashore to play baseball for the Bay Area Lilliputians, …ha ha ha) and, having dispensed with that problem, continued about his business.”
In As It Is On Earth, Ben became Bin…and Bishie became Esther….But the qualities of ‘X’ still hold.
** Note: The full version of The Life of Birds was published in Issue 6, January 2022 of the The Twin Bill
Before I got down to your last line “Ben” and “Bishie” were striking chords of memory.
Did you, like me, as a child wonder why people always “looked like” their names? If, for example, a strange boy said to me, “Hi, I’m Greg”, my brain would, of course, immediately associate the image of his face with the name Greg, but it would seem to me that his face embodied some transcendent quality of Greg-ness. If I knew another Greg who looked very little like him, I would still regard them as somehow participating in this same transcendent quality, if in different ways.
all, forms of synesthesia I guess…fun to ponder.