Arranging the Pieces… The comfort of our patterns

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By Tabitha Bozeman

The other day, a friend at work told me that she’d read an article about how mourning doves stopped singing in many places back in 2021. The birds were still there, they were just silent. Many ornithologists and amateur birdwatchers noticed this strange phenomenon, and as I read more about it, I really empathized with the disconcerting sense of loss many of them described.

The loss is not as simple as just missing the sounds the birds make. Instead, the loss of the doves’ song was a loss of place and time identity for some. A couple of people mentioned that they connected the sounds of mourning doves with the identity of where they live, and the absence of the sound has altered their perception of place. Another writer mentioned the sound instantly transporting him back in time to childhood visits with a family member. The loss of the birdsong for him represented a loosening – and perhaps loss – of those memories.

Mourning the loss of this familiar sound, then, is mourning the loss of the expected, of the comfort of the patterns of daily life and of the memories attached to the sound.

We are wired to recognize patterns. We use patterns as tools to communicate, to stay safe and to express ourselves. Vocal patterns allow us to learn speech. Visual patterns form the basis of communicating through writing. The ability to leverage pattern recognition is a powerful tool for writers, artists and musicians.

One incredibly popular and accomplished singer-songwriter skillfully wields this tool as a literary device called “allusion.” This artist recognizes patterns in her life experiences and relationships and literature and crafted songs that allude to the poetry of Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost and Pablo Neruda, as well as the novels of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Daphne du Maurier.

These poets and writers were recognizing and building on archetypal patterns that existed long before they did. When readers and listeners familiar with these patterns recognize them, new levels of patternicity and connection are created, often in powerful ways.

In creative writing class this week, we discussed the ways references to archetypes and mythology, folktales and pop culture can create meaning, connection, identity and community. The ability to recognize these patterns and connections functions as a kind of bridge between individuals as we each navigate our unique circumstances and experiences. These bridges allow for empathy, which makes compassion possible.

Compassion can be defined as “recognizing the suffering of others and then taking action to help; or as a tangible expression of love for those who are suffering or in need.” Sometimes, though, we need the loss of our expected patterns to jolt us out of autopilot and remind us to pay attention.

At least a couple mornings a week, I grab breakfast in the Gadsden State cafeteria and spend a little time writing. This week, I kept thinking about the mourning doves and how they are still present but have lost their song. I was pondering this when I went in for breakfast one morning. Breakfast was what I expected, and I happily ga-thered my tray and drink. My usual seat was open, and the same news channel was playing as always. As I sat down, I was still thinking about the doves, and patterns and noticing how much I subconsciously rely on my own daily patterns without always thinking about how much they are intertwined with the routines and patterns of others.

I found a more recent article that observed that in most places, the doves have begun to sing again. Knowing that even the birds stop singing sometimes is disconcerting, but it is also comforting to know that humans aren’t the only ones so deeply connected to routine and patterns. It’s also comforting to know that if we lose our song we will find it again.

Tabitha Bozeman teaches English at Gadsden State Community College, where she is the editor-in-chief of the Cardinal Arts Journal. The opinions expressed are her own. She may be reached at tabithabozeman@gmail.com.

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