when wings stay still
sometimes, holiness is the absence of flutter.
so it was the other morning when, as i always do, i bounded out the back door, coffee can in hand; called out, “mornin’, babies,” to all my flocks.
crossed the chilly bricks, tiptoed into grass, the not-so-vast terrain that stands between me and my seed troughs.
right then was when my bare toes curled; i looked down, saw right away, the blades of grass were crusty white. the morning’s frost had robed them, made them downright furry.
but i had work to do, was on my morning rounds. i had birds to feed, and a crust of fragile frozen mist was not about to stop me.
after all this time, you see, after all the awe as i stand and watch the winged ones dart and peck, as i catch a scarlet ribbon flash before my eye amid a drab brown world that screams for color, after waking up to bird song, and watching babies dare to leave the nest, well, i’ve come to think of all those birds as mine. we belong to each other, the birds and i.
or, at least, so i fool myself.
my coffee can, of course, was filled with breakfast for those birds. not the oatmeal i’d be bubbling back inside. this day, a blend of fruits and nuts was on the menu.
and while i stood there, sizing up the frost, determining to add a little zip to this trip to the feeder, i noticed something else that stopped me in mid-pace: papa cardinal hadn’t flown away, was mere feet away, gobbling down the seed from yesterday.
now, every single other time that i’ve stepped outside that door, to haul a hose, to haul the garbage, to go inspect a rose, i’ve been met with the popping sound of wings in sudden flight, the darting of each and every bird, lurching off to camouflage and haven in all the boughs and branches.
but not this time.
the scarlet wings stayed still.
and in that absence of haste, the morning’s calm unbroken, i felt a cloak of heaven falling down on me, cascading over my shoulders, warming my bare arms.
it is a holy thing, for certain, to be nearly eyeball to eyeball with a wild thing. especially when the wild thing has wings, could fly away at the wisp of a breeze.
he carried on with his chowing down, that red bird did. and i, now frozen, just stood and stared.
i put down the foot i’d been holding in mid-air.
the cardinal didn’t flinch.
i picked up my other foot.
put it down.
and then i stood and marveled: this bird seems not to mind me, i realized, not consider me a wild-haired bother.
why, he’s gobbling as if at a diner counter, and i’m just another hungry soul sliding onto nearby stool. plunk down my elbows, take a menu. order up a coffee, tall and black. ask him how his day looks, here in this small town.
i tell you, he might not have been too ruffled by my being there, the very picture of cardinal nonchalance, but i, well, i was wholly tingling.
it’s not every day you discover you’ve crossed the line, and what a line it is. the birds no longer see you as a stranger, threat, or alien.
the birds don’t even bother.
for all they care, you’ve sprouted wings.
well. yes. indeed. i’d say so.
i felt as if heaven’s gate had swung wide open, whirled me right inside.
there i was out there where i shoulda been shivering, but instead i was hot inside. barely breathing. heart pounding, too.
so THIS is what it feels like to be at one with holiness. this is how you know you’ve come to be so synchronous with that you love that your being there makes no wave, does not disturb the peace.
makes me think, suddenly, of old married couples who whirl around each other in the kitchen. she, splashing at the sink the way she always does. he, burping, pouring coffee, smoothing down the pages of the news with the same exact precision as he’s done for 50 years.
to co-exist. to be breath-to-breath. to not feel one bit afraid in each other’s holy presence.
that’s what papa cardinal seemed to tell me: i was someone safe now, a title earned through months and years of grace. (and good stock in bird seed, maybe.)
it’s a trophy only i would ever know, not one to perch on any shelf. which makes it the best sort, really.
that drawing in of sacred breath, discovering a truth of who we are or who we’ve become that no one else needs know.
but as we carry on, we carry forward this: the gentle quiet honor bestowed on us one chilly autumn’s morn, when the red bird didn’t flutter. considered us at one with the whole of winged creation.
and now i’m dreaming this: some day that bird will rest upon my shoulder.
or in the open cup of my outstretched hands.
be still my stirring heart…
i know there are those among you who’ve been at one in the woods, with the wild things. maybe your peaceful co-existence came with another human soul. or maybe you too carry unspoken, unheralded trophies in your heart. my point here was not to share mine, but to nod to the truth that we all have rich unexposed artworks deep inside. mine was bestowed by a red bird, gobbling day-old seed. do you care to whisper yours?
and while at it this lovely friday in november, keep in your hearts the lovely pjv, mother of the bride in just one day….tis a blessed, heart-stretching moment–i can only imagine–to watch your little bird fly the nest, robed in bridal white. peace and love and joy to you, dear pjv, and the lovely, lovely em.