Life Lessons From a Bird Guide in Costa Rica

Oct 1, 2022 | Virtues of the Heart

Eduardo was a small, young man.

His clothes were well-worn and looked like they would had been in fashion 30 years ago. They looked to be just past their usefulness. His sneakers showed the effects of many years of rugged use. His hair was thick and matted, and he looked as if he had not seen a shower in a long time, yet he was not visibly dirty.

His skin had a soft, luminous quality. At first glance, I felt unsure that this young man would be able to teach us about nature and birds. I was fixated on his appearance and thus formed judgments and prejudices. Yet, through all of this, I sensed an innocence, a purity, a gentleness in him that touched me, that gave me pause.

Two conflicting impressions: one from my head and one from my heart. He was an enigma standing before me. These conflicting impressions lingered as we prepared to head out on our bird watching tour. He was our wildlife guide and would be guiding us into the rainforest, which I had been enthusiastically looking forward to. But my disappointment was palpable as I expected an Older, more seasoned-looking person to be our guide.

With a wave of his hand, he motioned for us to follow him. With our small group in tow, he lead us down a path and within minutes, stopped suddenly, raising his hand to motion to the group to be silent. His eyes fixed on the tree tops; he pointed up and said, “Toucan, toucan.” My eyes darted around the tops of the trees in anticipation, and sure enough, there they were, unmistakable. A pair of toucans were perched high in a tree. I felt my heart beating faster as I looked up because I had hoped that we would see this beautiful bird. Within minutes, my wish came true, and I was thrilled.

To my astonishment, Eduardo repeated this every few minutes as we walked deeper into the forest. I was amazed at how he could spot these birds, let alone identify many different birds at such a distance.

Each time, his eyes would be focused in the birds’ direction, and he would say its name and follow with some interesting information about that particular bird. It usually took a few minutes before the rest of us could see the bird, but he was very patient and accommodating in his manner and guidance.

The more I listened and watched him, the more I found myself mesmerized by him. I was drawn to him and did not want to miss a word he was saying. His broken English made it hard to understand everything, so I stayed close to him. I did not want to miss a thing. I began to notice the joy he demonstrated whenever he was talking about the birds. His face lit up with an infectious smile. I could see he loved sharing this with all of us. This was truly something that he loved and was very knowledgeable about. His eyes were like laser beams scanning the forest. We were there to see the exotic birds and wildlife of Costa Rica, but for me, he had become the focal point. The joy emanating from him began to affect everyone, and there was excitement and fun in the air. It was like watching an artist showing us how he works his magic. His canvas was the forest and the wildlife his paint. He waved his arms in the air like a brush that revealed life and beauty that would have otherwise been invisible to us.

He was obviously poor, and I assumed he did not have much education. As I looked at him in his old clothes, I was struck by the gift he had and the sense of purpose and joy he projected. He was comfortable in his role as guide. To me, he was living life so beautifully, giving freely, completely free of any egotistic filter or personality mask. He was authentic and real, and his essence illuminated the forest. He was comfortable and confident with who he was. My view of him began to shift from a simple guide to a teacher of love, so pure and at peace with himself and his position in life. I witnessed this being played out in front of me so beautifully.

Feeling this confronted me with my initial judgments and how they misled me. I judged him by his clothes and appearance and felt quite justified in my assessment. I saw him as less than me and wondered pretentiously how could he have anything to teach me. I could not have imagined when starting out on the walk that this young man would bring me to my knees with inner shame, and I would be groping for forgiveness.

The tour ended, and I left him feeling changed and disoriented. I could not get him out of my mind. I didn’t understand it for a few days. I felt that I was witness to what we all search for: peace of mind, confidence, gratitude for life, being of service to others, living a purposeful life, and spreading infectious joy to others.

Deep shame enveloped me for my judgments of him. I felt humiliated in my arrogance and cringed at the thought of anyone knowing what I had thought. I was arrogant and judgmental of someone I did not know. I was drowning in a sea of self-loathing for days afterwards when I finally began to realize something profound had happened. I had to admit it to myself that he humbled me. He held up a mirror for me to see my errors. I admired him and loved who he was, his beautiful qualities—a stark difference from my initial impressions.

Looking back, I felt like I had spent a few hours with an enlightened being, this young Costa Rican man who would teach me a valuable life lesson about judging others and forgiveness. Life is like that. Sometimes, it gives us lessons in the most unexpected ways. This encounter with this young man ended up teaching me and giving me much more than I could have imagined.

The young bird guide of Costa Rica has changed me forever.

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