The Joyas Voladoras

When I was younger, my family and I would visit my grandpa in Jamaica. Sitting in his backyard sipping lemonade or snacking on Ovaltine biscuits, we’d stare at his red hummingbird feeders, waiting for our little friends to pay us a visit. When one finally entered the backyard, I’d pause my biting or gulping and unconsciously hold my breath, like somehow they’d feel my breeze and retreat. My eyes were fascinated at these small creatures and when I looked to the side at my grandpa, I knew he was content too.

Throughout my childhood, hummingbirds were a symbol around our house whether my parents realized it or not. A hummingbird chime hung by our front door and sung in soft twinkles when you entered the house. We had a magnet of a red-billed streamertail, also known as “the doctor bird” and the national bird of Jamaica, on our fridge, a glass blue and pink hummingbird resting on a flower in my Mom’s glass curio, and so many more.

I remember in my fifth grade art class we were assigned to pick our favorite animal and draw it using oil pastels. Some kids drew their dogs or cats, dolphins–– which were very popular with the girls––lions, and turtles. But I drew a large purple, magenta and gold hummingbird, which my Mom later framed and hung in our basement.

It wasn’t until my Personal Essay class in college when I finally understood the meaning of my little friends, the Joyas Voladoras (the Flying Jewels). This short essay by Brian Doyle mainly compares the hummingbird’s heart, which is the size of a pencil eraser, to a whale’s heart, which can weigh more than seven tons. Hummingbirds live life by visiting as many flowers as they can per day, darting––burning energy and graciously refueling.

“But when they rest they come close to death: on frigid nights, or when they are starving, they retreat into torpor, their metabolic rate slowing to a fifteenth of their normal sleep rate, their hearts sludging nearly to a halt, barely beating, and if they are not soon warmed, if they do not soon find that which is sweet, their hearts grow cold, and they cease to be.” 

– Brian Doyle

The hummingbird knows that life is delicate but also short and filled with the unexpected. In life, there is no point in stopping to overthink the past, to bottle up your emotions, to give up along the ride, or hesitate in taking chances. Like the hummingbird, pushing from flower to flower, I’ve learned to do everything in life with full force while taking in the beauty as I go.

My dad always says, “Life is short and then you die.”

For the hummingbird, and for us, my dad’s dark humor rings true. When I was a kid, I never looked at something and wondered how long it lived for. I never wondered how its days were numbered. I never wondered about its journey. While sitting there in my grandpas backyard, I never knew the hummingbird had a lifespan of three to five years. But sitting there looking at my grandpa, I thought he’d live forever.

Life is about finding “that which is sweet.”

For the hummingbird, that’s nectar. For me, it’s moments like I shared with my grandpa. Those small instances in life where you can thrive purely on a smile, a laugh, a connection. So no matter where I go, I’m going to soak up those moments like my own nectar––to remember and cherish each one as I explore the rest of what my life has to offer.

This is my reminder of that.

Tattoo by Kreska at 10 Thousand Foxes Tattoo, Brooklyn

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