Around 6:00 PM on May 14, the Wicked Meadow Loons were standing on a stone jetty on Delaware Bay watching a storm moving in from the west. We were also watching a couple of Purple Sandpipers hunkering down doing their best impression of the surrounding rocks as well as the only Ruddy Turnstone we would encounter that day. It turned out to be a pivotal moment. As the lightning struck and then the rain, even some hail, started to come down, it was obvious that some time would be lost in our 24-hour birding marathon known as the 33rd annual World Series of Birding.
For the better part of the next hour, the best we could muster was standing in a beachside shelter hoping for a bird we had yet to record to fly by. But all was not lost. While we didn’t add any species to our list during that vigil, we did a few important things. First, we took a bit of the sting out of the situation by reminding ourselves that we were on a level playing field; it was indeed raining on all the other teams as well. Second, we did the most important thing, we resolved to carry on. It is in those moments we chose not to throw in the towel that we learn the most about ourselves, about what truly matters to us. Third, we made a plan, quickly calculating which species we had scouted where and how much time we had until darkness changed which birds we could identify, we laid out what turned out to be a winning strategy. When we submitted our list at midnight after the King Rail refused to call (which he did at 12:15) the total was 190 species, a dozen species more than the team that came in second.
There is strength to be found in adversity. Two decades of chasing victory in the World Series of Birding, narrowly missing first place the last two times I competed, made me want it enough to dig deep. A harsh reality of an annual competition is that if you make a mistake you have to wait 365 days to correct it. Deciding in that moment in the storm that we would double down instead of giving up was not only the right decision; it also was the empowering one. Choosing to go for it, ignoring exhaustion and discomfort, was invigorating. We found the stamina to carry on to the finish, and then some.
It is one thing to choose to make lemonade when life hands you lemons. It is indeed smart to make the most of a bad situation. But what if you dug a little deeper and realized that with all this lemonade you could open a stand and make some money as well? I truly believe that that sort of attitude is available to us when we turn to God in our distress. When we cry out for divine help God sends the Holy Spirit, which seems all soft, and quiet, and innocent as a dove, but remember that it was this Spirit that blew out the locked doors the disciples were hiding behind, literally got them fired up, and gave them the power to go out and change the world forever. That power is no less available to us today, if only we dare ask.