Chapel Hill: Opinion

Derrick Ivey: Moment amid the mayhem

I’ve been watching a pair of bluebirds as they shop for a new home.

Over the years, I’ve placed three bluebird nesting boxes all within sight of my front door. And the two birds have been flitting – both singly and as a pair – from one box to another. Weighing the pros and cons of each and working in tandem toward their final decision. It’s a fascinating and entertaining thing to behold.

Today’s bluebird watching came during a surprising bit of free time for me. Some last-minute rescheduling gave me a few unexpected hours to sit outside and see what was happening in the wild world around me.

Time to leisurely sit and watch has been a rarity of late.

I’m currently working my way through four months of my schedule being completely booked with rehearsals, performances, and appointments from three separate theatrical productions, multiple design projects, and daily farm chores. On paper it’s a daunting block of day after day filled with obligations. And I’d been dreading these four months for almost a year.

I suppose “dreading” isn’t the right word. I was excited about every project on my schedule. Eager to embrace the challenges, to do the work, and to explore the rewarding possibilities each had in store. So I wasn’t dreading this busy time exactly. But I had certainly braced myself for late nights, early mornings, and the constant running from one thing to the next.

What I hadn’t counted on were all the little unexpected moments of leisure and contemplation that would pop up along the way.

That big snow event back in February was one. I’d been forced to abandon my truck in Chapel Hill and had set out to walk the fifteen or so miles home.

Frustrated at first, I soon settled into something of a reverie. I’d walk a bit in wintry isolation. Cold, silent, and hauntingly peaceful. I’d pass abandoned cars that had nose-dived into ditches or had simply been left at twisted angles in the middle of the road. I’d catch glimpses of rabbits darting into the brush, hawks soaring above the trees, and all sorts of wildlife quietly going about their business. And just when I’d start to feel like the only human on the planet, I’d hear the muffled crunch of tires on snow and a driver would offer me a ride.

Three separate drivers with vehicles heartier than mine gave me lifts that day. We’d share a few moments of artificial heat and casual conversation before he or she would need to turn off onto another pathway. And I’d be back out in the solitude of the frozen road again.

That night and all the next day were spent snowed in on the farm – a serendipitous vacation.

Another series of unexpected peaceful moments came during the actual performances of “Love Alone” at Playmakers Repertory Company. On my calendar, those weeks had been one long block of show-after-show-after-show sandwiched between two blocks of technical rehearsals for two different productions and interspersed with multiple other projects. As much as I loved all the projects, it seemed like it would be an exhausting time.

But peaceful moments can come in the most unusual places.

My character appeared in only three scenes in the play, but the director had asked me to remain onstage for the entire first act. At first it seemed like a tedious assignment – to sit and to wait. But it turned out to be unexpectedly refreshing and rejuvenating.

I’d sit in the shadows as 500 audience members watched each performance. I wasn’t the focus, I wasn’t even part of the action. But I remained constantly, quietly on the periphery until my scenes came along. Then I needed to be ready to snap into action.

While waiting, I’d pretend to read magazines or to make notations in files. Sometimes I’d stare into space or hold my head in my hands. All the while, remaining alert and aware.

During those moments, I explored what it was to actively “be” without drawing attention to myself. It evolved into a restful and contemplative meditation, and it further honed a skill I’ve been working on for some time. Waiting.

I’ve always thought there was a fine art to waiting. An art most of us have yet to master. During those three weeks of performances, I explored the art of mindful, attentive waiting – free from boredom or anxiety. Of simply remaining awake, alert, and pleasantly prepared until the next thing comes along. It was unbelievably enlightening and surprisingly empowering.

So what about those bluebirds I watched today?

Entertaining as they are, they do seem anxious about finding their home for the summer. They flit about. They creep inside one nesting box after another to see how it feels. They contemplate and confer together on a nearby fence. There’s a lot riding on this decision.

But in the midst of the frenzy one of them will occasionally sit in the branches of a tree, stretch its wings, and bask in the sunlight.

During one such hiatus, the male bluebird caught my eye. And I wondered what he thought of me – just sitting there. Looking at him looking at me.

Maybe he thought that all I do is sit and watch.

Or maybe he somehow knew we were each enjoying just a moment of peace in the mayhem.

Derrick Ivey is an actor, directer, designer, and gentleman farmer who lives in Chatham County.