Is it just me, or does it seem like everyone’s in a funk lately?  At the end of 2012, I saw post after post on Facebook by people who were all too happy to put the year behind them.  When I chat with friends, everyone has a story of a sick relative, a financial crisis, or a personal struggle with the blues.  The news headlines certainly reinforce my feelings that things are tough all over:  school shootings, acts of terrorism, even the Pope is stepping down because he says he lacks the strength.  All this “funk” reminds me of my vulture story.

A few years ago, I was out for a run on a country road.  It was early spring, so there weren’t too many leaves on the trees yet.  As I headed back home on my out-and-back route, I ran under a canopy of maples, whose branches reached across the road.  I looked up and saw four vultures perched on the boughs and peering down at me.  Perhaps I should have taken their presence as a commentary on my fitness level or the slowness of my run.  But instead, I ran straight home and pulled out my dog-eared, well-worn copy of Animal-Speak by Ted Andrews to help me figure out the meaning.

Vultures are seriously misunderstood creatures.  Most people think only of gross, nasty things that eat roadkill.  But think of the value of this service.  By fulfilling their role as scavenger, they limit the infection and bacteria from the dead animal that would otherwise harm other creatures.  They keep the environment clean and prevent the spread of disease.  The Greeks considered vultures to be the descendants of the griffin, who represented heaven and earth, guardian and avenger.  In short, vultures are all about transformation.  (Incidentally, the number four symbolizes “foundation.”)

Now, fast forward to last week and another vulture story.  While driving home from work, I saw four vultures again, this time on the ground, making short work of a dead deer.  The connection of this vulture scene to the earlier one got me thinking.  What did these two events, if taken together, mean for me?

In the first encounter, the vultures were just sitting; in the second, they were actively working their circle-of-life magic.  Four vultures could be interpreted to mean a transformation of foundation.  And that has certainly been true for me for the past few years.  I feel as if external and internal events have conspired to strip down all my old beliefs and philosophies, to make me examine what is really important and true for me.  After all ,when the going gets tough, we can’t afford the luxury of frivolous things.  It’s as if the friction wears away the unnecessary things.

So I’ve interpreted the first vulture encounter as a message saying, “now is the time to sit patiently, examine your foundation, and prepare for change.”  And I see the second, where the vultures were doing their work, as a message saying, “now it’s time to get to work and operate from that new foundation you’ve created.”

Whether it’s true or not, it’s still a good message to take to heart.  There will always be funk, always be roadkill.  And there will always be a time to sit patiently and reflect, just as there will always be a time to roll up the sleeves and get to work.