That title is a reference to the well-known song sung by Barbra Streisand in “Funny Girl.” The line from that song that has always resonated with me is this: “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” I’m a bit of a loner and an introvert, tending to spend most of my time alone or with just a couple other people. But even though I know there’s nothing inherently wrong with being this way, I still feel a bit of shame at my inability to be the outgoing, always-on-the-run, busy-busy-busy personality that is more socially acceptable in this country.
As an HSP, I have a strong aversion to crowds and noise. Some people are stimulated in a positive way by being around lots of other people, but I have the exact opposite experience. After spending time at a large social function, I usually feel very tired and emotionally drained. We HSPs take in so much more information in any given situation than most people that our brains just get overloaded with stimuli. Because of this, I’ve learned to orchestrate my life so that I have lots of quiet time for recuperation and reflection on my experiences. Knowing all of this, you might wonder why I would voluntarily go to a birding festival where the most popular birding spot is a narrow boardwalk that gets so crowded you sometimes have to push your way between people. (The photo to the left is only a medium-sized crowd — it gets much worse in spots where a really good bird is spotted!)
It’s funny though, that because of the beauty and general awesomeness of the birds, I don’t really get as tense as I would somewhere else with the same crowds. Like, for example, if the crowds were that thick at a street art festival, I’d only be able to spend short amounts of time there. But the birds make all the difference. Even though I’m surrounded by throngs of people, my mind is mostly focused on the little flying creatures in the trees. If you saw me on the Magee boardwalk, you wouldn’t necessarily know that I was any different from anyone else. You’d probably even see me helping other people to see and identify birds; I really do love interacting with people when I can teach or show them something interesting.
But this year at the Biggest Week I had a moment where I was struck by something ironic: I’ve always thought birding was a healthy and fun way to avoid people, but I found that my love of birds has begun to bring me closer to people. Wow, that realization blew my mind! From the moment I was accepted as one of the Official Bloggers for the Biggest Week, I felt a kinship with a special group of (mostly) strangers from all across the country. And I had so many amazingly positive experiences with people during the Biggest Week that my self-esteem got a much-needed boost. I’d like to tell you about a few of the people that made this such a wonderful time for me:
One of my fellow blog team members invited us all to a dinner party at her cottage on Lake Erie. She cooked a fabulous New Mexican meal for us and was a kind and welcoming hostess, allowing many of us to meet for the first time in a beautiful and relaxed setting. I had considered not attending her party because I was so intimidated by not knowing anyone else who would be there. Thanks to encouragement from Eric, and the enticement of good home cooking during a week of restaurant meals, I decided to go. And I’m so glad I did. There turned out to be two people there that I already knew, so that helped a lot.
And then there were the always gracious Kim and Kenn Kaufman. Kim is the Executive Director of Black Swamp Bird Observatory, and is the energizing force behind the festival. Her heart and soul go into bird conservation year-round. And her husband Kenn is the internationally-known birding expert and author/publisher of the Kaufman Field Guide series. You might expect people of their stature to be reluctant to mingle with the likes of me, but you’d be wrong. These two spread themselves very thin during the Biggest Week, but they still had time to share a joke or a kind moment with anyone who talked to them. Eric and I were exceedingly grateful to be able to bird with them for three hours one morning on a special outing at Magee Marsh.
And another famous birding couple was on that walk too: Don and Lillian Stokes. This was the first time I’d ever met them, and I was pleasantly surprised at their openness and kindness as well. As early arrivals to the outing, we had a couple minutes to talk privately with them — and they were gracious enough to allow us to take a photo for my blog. Aren’t those smiles great? I still can’t get over how nice they were to everyone…they also told good jokes and stories. (Birders have so many great stories!)
And then there was the moment when a complete stranger noticed my name badge and told me she’d read my blog and liked it. Wow, talk about having your mind blown….that was great. One of the most rewarding things someone can say to me is that they read my blog and enjoy it.
There was another moment where my blog started a conversation too. I was on the boardwalk in a very crowded section, trying to catch a glimpse of some warbler (I think it was a Golden-winged…). I exchanged pleasantries with a very well-known birder who began asking me about my HSP trait, telling me she’d read my blog and was curious about it. We had a quiet conversation right in the middle of a huge crowd of people, with people jostling for better vantage points to see the bird. I was so touched by this and made sure to thank her for talking to me about it.
It may sound egotistical, but I believe it’s a core human truth: We all like to know that we’re important, that we make a difference. This is something I’ve struggled with in recent years because I don’t usually get this kind of feedback in my regular life. I question whether I’m doing anything useful with my life. These moments all meant SO much to me. I felt the kind of connection with other people that I’ve been missing (without knowing that I was missing it). I thought I was ok with my quiet, relatively isolated existence. It’s not that I’m not happy — I am. But my interactions with other bird lovers in the past month have added another dimension to my life, making it richer and more meaningful.
I’m still processing what this all means to me. For example, why have I never felt this type of connection to any other group of people before? What is it about bird people that makes me feel so good? I think it may be our shared concerns for the natural world, the tie that binds all human and animal life together. Part of me doesn’t want to overanalyze the whole experience, but I know I’ll be thinking about it for a long time.
After all these years, is it possible I really could be one of the “People Who Need People”?