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The Woodpecker's Message

Call Exceptionalism’s Name

by MISSY BEATTIE

I was reminded of a book I read years ago when I sat on Laura and Erma’s deck—Margaret Craven’s I Heard the Owl Call My Name—a story of a call to life, love, a recognition and acceptance of the call to death. Having made a no-whine vow, I was holed up in my condo Saturday night and most of Sunday, watching hours of French movies. (I recommend In the House.) Laura and Erma issued an invitation to dinner, to pull me away from myself, since Sunday was the sixth anniversary of my husband Charles’s death. I was reminded of that book, as I felt something flutter against my body and heard Erma say, “Missy, a woodpecker landed on your shoulder.”

I drove home, wondering what the flutter of the woodpecker might portend. Was it a nudge? A summons, like the owl’s, to death? I’m more predisposed to think omens than amens—felt some excitement that this had happened on my very personal memorial day.

I emailed a dear friend who immediately was intrigued enough by the flutter of the woodpecker to search for symbolism. She responded with this and this, telling me that the woodpecker signifies balance, opportunity, progress, and determination.

Next morning, she wrote:

Right before I went to sleep I was thinking about what a rare event that was. It must be incredibly rare for a bird to land on a person. They just don’t do that. They poop on people, they may swoop at them to get them away from their nests, but they simply don’t land on them. I’ve never heard of that happening. At some ancient, primal level, it has tremendous significance. It makes me very excited. Triple excited because it happened on May 25.

My stream of consciousness has overflowed for several days now with thoughts of Charles, of my brother Mark who acknowledged Memorial Day by posting on Facebook photographs of his son Chase who was killed in Iraq, the comments I find so troubling that followed these pictures: “He’s in a better place” and “I’d be so proud,” war, war, war, the troop drawdown in Afghanistan for Obama’s pledge of military forces to other areas around the world, all those whose lives have been destroyed by US invasion and occupation, the flutter of the woodpecker, and yet another death spree by a young man whose message is one that’s commonplace.

I accept Charles’s death, although I wish he’d been with me longer, healthy, here now to see his grandson. “I’ve had a wonderful life,” he said, the day before he died. The flutter of the woodpecker is mystifying and quite spectacular, visiting on May 25.

Among the mainstream media “Top Stories”: “Isla Vista rampage suspect’s struggles didn’t prevent gun buying” and “Kim Kardashian and her Family Wore ‘Millions of Dollars Worth’ of jewelry”. Interesting combo, in light of selections from Rodger’s email (“My Twisted World”) to his parents, his therapist, and a TV station: “Wealth is one of the most important defining factors of self-worth and superiority” and “I had to be ruthless, and do whatever it takes to attain such wealth.”

In online forums, video posts, and an email “manifesto”, Rodger spewed tirades of misogyny, male entitlement, racism, hatred for guys who get the girls, hatred for just about everyone. He expressed his exceptionalism. Here’s an excerpt from his “retribution” YouTube:

… I am going to enter the hottest sorority house at UCSB and I will slaughter every single spoiled, stuck-up, blond slut I see inside there. All those girls I’ve desired so much. They have all rejected me and looked down on me as an inferior man if I ever made a sexual advance toward them, while they throw themselves at these obnoxious brutes. I’ll take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one. The true alpha male. Yes… After I have annihilated every single girl in the sorority house I will take to the streets of Isla Vista and slay every single person I see there. All those popular kids who live such lives of hedonistic pleasure…

On the day of the murders, Rodger began by killing three males in his apartment and then targeted representations of all he believed had slighted him. Like US Empire, Rodger struck. He just used a Glock, two SIG Sauer pistols, a knife, possibly a machete and a hammer, and BMW as weapons—instead of drones.

I want the woodpecker to tap a message to the owl. And then hear the owl call Exceptionalism’s name.

Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com