One day long ago, I stood at a window rocking a sickly toddler on my arms while looking at the purplish-gray evening sky. A flock of seagulls flew by, seemingly in a hurry to get from wherever they came from to wherever they were headed.
I was struck by the intentionality of their flight.
“Look at the birds,” I said to the toddler. “Where do you think they are going?”
Without the slightest hesitation, he answered, “Getting noodles.”
I still don’t know how that little boy knew what the seagulls were up to, why they would get noodles, or where, and I still sometimes contemplate why animals do what they are doing and how they know to do it.
In science, we like to connect every action to life’s basic needs like getting food, water, shelter or a mate, or defending those things from threats. I can’t help but think that the intentions of animals are much more complicated and purposeful.
What triggers a seagull sitting on a beach somewhere to suddenly take flight and find noodle-shaped worms many miles away in the mudflats of another intertidal area? What makes a sea lion decide to leave one haul-out site and visit another? How does a penguin in a colony of thousands decide which individual of the other gender to court and spend its life with?
“Intentionality is a philosophical concept defined as the power of minds to be about, to represent or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs,” it reads in Wikipedia.
In my opinion, intentionality is an approach to life. Some people live with intentionality; they have a purpose and a goal and live every day with the intention of getting closer to that goal.
On the other hand, there are people, or times in the lives of people, where intentionality is lost and every day is taken one step at a time, while the greater goal or purpose remains shrouded.
I believe that in the case of the flight of a group of seagulls for the acquisition of noodles in the next bay, the intentions are rather simple and connected to basic physical needs.
However, when contemplating the flight of terns over thousands of miles between their summer nesting grounds and their overwintering areas, there must be a deeper driving force.
Likewise, in people there may be a goal that encompasses certain possessions, a status of life and perhaps the fulfillment of certain fantasies, but fades once those goals are achieved.
Intentional and passionate people are all about achieving something meaningful in their lifetime. These people have reached an understanding of the thing that guides their life beyond the daily needs and haves. Those are the ones fighting for a cause, organizing action or resistance, and pledging themselves to a greater good.
Sometimes, life gives you lemons, and sometimes a coronavirus pandemic. Some people adjust easily and make lemonade, and some profit from the virus crisis.
Most others take longer to adjust to the new circumstances. Wearing a mask was so awkward in the beginning, and I used to wonder why people were driving around alone in their cars wearing a mask when there was no chance of contracting or spreading a virus.
Now, I sometimes forget to take off my own mask when leaving a store and driving home, especially when it is cold outside and the mask provides a little extra warmth to the face.
“You will adapt,” one of my favorite Star Trek characters would say.
Many a life has been severely impacted and rerouted by this worldwide disruption. I am not one to lose hope too easily, and I think that some good may come out of this.
Perhaps it helps some people to find intentionality, something that is bigger than the everyday needs and worries, a goal that is worth following despite, or because of, the obstacles and challenges.
I am confident that when I look out the window into the setting sun, there will be groups moving in one direction, following a common greater goal, perhaps getting noodles. It’s an amazing world and this is a time for everyone to contemplate why we are in it.