This photo is of a nest in a hanging basket next to our front door. The two carolina wren chicks are easy to see. But why are there still two eggs (look closely for the second one beneath to top chick)? These are cowbird eggs. We caught the cowbird in the act of laying an egg in the wren's nest. This is how cowbirds handle the problem of raising their young: let someone else do it! If you have children, you may have had days when you felt the cowbird was onto something. The problem is, when those eggs hatch, the cowbird chicks will throw the wren chicks out of the nest. The carolina wren will raise them as her own. Either the wren or cowbird chicks will live, but not both.
The two cowbird eggs in the photo make me wonder what we carry in the “nest” of our lives that can make things go awry. The more visible egg on the left of the photo symbolizes problems outside of ourselves that we wish we could throw out of our lives—maybe a loved one’s temper, addiction, or irksome habit. The other egg, the one nestled beneath the chick on the right, represents our inner habits of thought, emotion, and behavior that cause us and those around us difficulty. The most problematic such eggs in our interior world are the ones we don’t even know are there. We may remain blind to them until they grow big enough to overpower our better selves. Often our loved ones keep trying to tell us about these eggs, but we behave like the carolina wren. We keep feeding them as if they pose no problem at all.
Claudia and I agreed a few years ago to the following maxim: If you see something in me that is a concern for you, it goes on my spiritual growth list. Period. When we remember to live by this it lets us bypass a lot of defensiveness and denial. If she sees an egg in my nest that is doing me or us harm, arguing that there’s no such egg will be of no benefit!
All good metaphors can lead us in multiple directions. Another take on the wren chicks and cowbird eggs makes me think of Kahlil Gibran's famous lines: "Your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of life's longing for itself." I was fifteen years into being father to our son when I began to see and accept that he is as different from me as a cowbird from a wren. Sharing genetic coding, gender, and the same last name with him does not mean I know exactly what kind of rare bird he is. Like the wren, when it comes to offspring, we tend to whatever eggs we find in our nest, no matter how different they seem from us!
Kevin Anderson, Ph.D. is a psychologist, author, and speaker who lives in the Toledo, Ohio area. His latest book Now is Where God Lives: Nested Meditations to Delight the Mind and Awaken the Soul is available at Amazon or thewingedlife.com