The Bluebird Inside Our Hearts

Shabbat Shuvah | Yom Kippur By :  Marcus Mordecai Schwartz Ripps Schnitzer Librarian for Special Collections; Assistant Professor, Talmud and Rabbinics Posted On Oct 7, 2016 / 5777 | דבר אחר | A Different Perspective | Holidays
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I’m too tough for him,
I say, stay in there, I’m not going
to let anybody see
there’s a bluebird in my heart that
wants to get out
but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
cigarette smoke . . .
I only let him out
at night sometimes
when everybody’s asleep.
I say, I know that you’re there,
so don’t be
then I put him back,
but he’s singing a little
in there, I haven’t quite let him
—from “the bluebird” by Charles Bukowski (from The Last Night of the Earth Poems, 1992)

Bukowski’s poem seems singularly appropriate for Shabbat Shuvah. When we face the world, we present a face that we have constructed carefully, a face we have cultivated over many years. But the person inside is at odds with the facade. The contradictions that we contain are legion. To be human is to live in tension: we want opposing things simultaneously. We want to be good, kind, generous, caring, and sensitive. But we act tough; we play roles that our evil inclinations have written for us.

Bukowski’s sickness was strong drink. He knew it, and he indulged in it with both great relish and great regret. But each of us has our own sickness of the soul. We give in to gluttony, anger, greed, gossip, cruelty, or some other symptom. Our sickness hides the vulnerable being in our heart—the bluebird we only let out at night. He’s not dead yet, but he is sick, very sick with our illness. We read the promise of healing in the haftarah taken from the book of Hosea: “I will heal their disloyalty; I will love them freely … I will be like the dew to Israel; he shall blossom like the lily and strike root like a [cedar of] Lebanon” (Hos. 14:5-6). The Holy Blessed One knows what lies in our hearts. O heal us, we pray, and we shall be healed.