A lot happened to me this past year. I suffered from a distressing medical symptom, which meant I needed a colonoscopy. I was diagnosed with colon cancer. Part of my colon was removed and stapled back together.
But I’m excited because here in Pittsburgh May is coming. It’s the month when I go to Frick Park and bring my binoculars. There will be dozens of warblers in kaleidoscopic variety, their Spring plumage on full display, and each singing his own unique melody. But I’m at least equally excited to see many of my favorite Pittsburgh friends. All of them are older than me; my wonderful girlfriend and I will be the only ones under 40. One of the regulars frequently describes the group as too geriatric.
Another thing about the Frick Park group is that, because the park is in Squirrel Hill, many of my Frick birding friends are Jewish. Many have always lived in Squirrel Hill, unlike me – I’ve only been in Pittsburgh 3 years. One morning last May, after five solid hours of birding, one of them suggested we go to breakfast at Kazansky’s for the best latkes in town, and was completely crestfallen when another told him they’d closed down.
They tell good jokes. One has a thing for reciting dirty limericks. Another once flipped open his guidebook to the page with Wilson’s Warbler. “What bird is that?” he asked my girlfriend. She didn’t know. “It’s the Jewish Warbler,” he said smiling. One of Wilson’s Warbler’s diagnostic features is a round, black cap on its head.
I miss them, my geriatric Jewish friends. I’m not sick anymore. I want to see them. A few days ago I fantasized that as we all gather one morning in the parking lot at Frick, I’ll overhear one talk about how he has to go in for a colonoscopy, how nervous he is. “Don’t worry,” I’ll interrupt, secretly delighting in the hilarity of age reversal, “they’re not that bad.” They will all look at me with horror, because I am 26. And if I tell them I had cancer, then I’ll also tell them my joke: “The good thing about colonoscopies is they’re a two-for-one. The drugs get you pretty high.”
Then we will all bird until noon and go eat latkes because Smallman’s is still open. And I will pat my belly right near the spot where the scar from my surgery is and think to myself: birds, jokes, the month of May – there is no better way to heal.