The Cardinal’s Message


On a quiet, windless afternoon in early July, I sat myself down to write about anything other than the horrid grieving process topic, and the river of memories that ripple through me in the waking hours. I inhaled a few fat breaths, prayed to the angels, and the guides, and God, and my brother to give me a few moments of reprieve, and keep me from trolling through old emails, that at this point, I could recite from memory.

With hands clasped and eyes closed, I began praying (which quickly turned into begging) to whatever spirits were around to listen, and “spirity” enough to answer my pleas for help.

hands claspedThree seconds into my session, I was interrupted by a series of thumps; sounds that mimicked a loose shutter rapping against the house on a windy afternoon.  I glanced outside, the maple leaves were still. Plus, we don’t have shutters.

As the thumping continued, I walked from room to room, paused, listened, and followed the noise. I opened the bathroom door, and let out a startled scream as a cardinal flew headfirst into glass. Dazed, he flew back to the limb of the lilac tree. I waited. I watched. Two, three, four more times this red-winged beauty determined, flew full speed into the window. Can a bird be crazy? I didn’t think so, but I wasn’t sure. I went outside and shooed the bird away before it sailed into the window one too many times and killed itself. I returned to talk to the spirits. Five minutes later, the rapping resumed.

cardinalMany of you may already be aware (though I wasn’t at the time) during mating season, this sweet bird attacks itself, because it can’t differentiate between its own reflection in a window and what it perceives as a rival for nesting territory or a potential mate. As this self-attack took place, I researched this bird-destructive behavior and how to stop it. I duct-taped newspaper on the inside of the window, proud that I’d found a solution to save the bird from itself. As I turned to walk out of the bathroom, the bird struck itself again. The little guy could still see himself, despite the newspaper.  I rummaged through the barn, found an old pizza box, and taped it on the outside of the window. It worked. No more reflection. No more attacks.

I’m  a deep believer that animals send us messages. Make us sit up and pay attention if we are open to whatever news they’re attempting to deliver. Here’s what I found: The cardinal asks us to examine our lives, those places we may lack confidence in our gifts and abilities. The cardinal calls us to be open to our creative energy and let it flow back into our lives.

As I read about the cardinal’s instinctual behavior to attack the imagined rival, and the spiritual messages they bring to us, I thought about how we wingless humans are just like those birds. We fly into and attack our essence when we deny or question or doubt our abilities, our passions, and skills that we are asked to share with the world to make it shine a bit brighter.


When we shoo away our own gifts with self-doubt and negative talk, and remind ourselves that we are not as good at X,Y, and Z  as we thought we were, or measure our skills, talents and achievements (or there lack of) against others, we do become that cardinal, fierce and determined to attack the rival who is nothing more than our own selves.  This goes for parenting, too, by the way. I’d be a multi-billionaire if I got a nickel every time one of my friends have berated their parenting skills.

Over the past five months, from the moment my brother left this world, I’ve been so entrenched in my grief, and my parents’, I went to all of those places people go—the would haves and should haves and whys; circular and pointless. I perched on my own not-so-unique limb of self-doubt and did the whole flying and attacking repeatedly. It sounded something like this: first, I ran through all the things I should have and could have done while my brother was alive.  That uplifting self-talk spiraled into a litany of things I could be better at—a better daughter, friend, sibling, aunt, which led to the unequivocal fact that I love to write, but I SUCK at it. Don’t ask me how I landed there, but I did. A dizzying experience really and not one I recommend.

On that day, the cardinal and I saved each other from attacking ourselves. I hid his reflection and he mirrored mine back to me. I will recognize now when I’m perching and preparing for a rapid flight, headfirst, into myself.  I returned to my prayer session. This time I said a prayer of gratitude and made a promise to accept my abilities and talents in whatever form they take in my life, including my writing life, including writing about the grieving process.

We can never undue something that’s been done. We can never unsay something that’s been said to ourselves or somebody else. We can never reclaim the time we’ve wasted during those moments of self-doubt, during those internal rap sessions where we tell our fragile little egos that there are hundreds of people much better at X,Y, and Z  then we are so why bother. We don’t have to be Jimi Hendrix to play the guitar; Hank Aaron to play baseball; Picasso to paint, or William Faulkner to write. And we don’t have to win a Mother or Father of the Year Award to be the best mom and dad in our child’s life.

We only have to commit to bring the highest and grandest expressions of ourselves into all that we do, to make the world better, to make it brighter, one heartbeat at a time.


I invite you all to recognize when you’re being the cardinal and share your story here!

As always, for those of you who have taken the time to read my rambles, I’m deeply grateful.

29 thoughts on “The Cardinal’s Message

  1. ****We only have to commit to bring the highest and grandest expressions of ourselves into all that we do, to make the world better, to make it brighter, one heartbeat at a time***

    stunning piece, sweet Susan.

    I have been that Cardinal…Pounding fiercely against glass.
    I am still that Cardinal, but not as often now.

    Gorgeous symbolism here.

    You. Are. A. Gift.

    Love flowing from Minnesota. xxxxxxxxxOOO

  2. Beautiful as always…please start being kinder to you my friend…and thanks for sharing your thoughts and words with all of us.

    1. Mary…I really, truly am listening to the message of that little red bird…and being kinder to my “little” ego self. Thanks always for reading and your support and encouragement. Big love!

  3. I love that the cardinal spoke to you and that you were still enough to receive it ‘s message. I hope you continue to share your gifts, dearest.

  4. Sweet! So good to hear from you, Susan. How are you doing? I often think of you. Any decisions on the work front yet? Follow your heart and TRUST… much love, Berry 

  5. A brilliant woman once taught me that if you force yourself to stop grieving, you will never stop grieving. Take as long as you need to. We will be here to help you along the way for as long as you need us to be. You have already returned the favor a thousand fold.

    This cardinal, here, loves your ramblings, needs your ramblings, and is inspired by your ramblings. Please don’t ever stop.

  6. Today was my day as a cardinal. Today I have been attacking all that I am; all that I have lost, and everything I could have done differently. This piece, Susan Casey, is my reflection. This is the answer to my prayers today. As I write this, my heart is so full of gratitude to the universe and for your gift, exactly when I needed it. Thank you.

    1. Oh, Robin…this comment has made my day. I’m so psyched it spoke to you and stopped the rapid perch and dive into self! So painful and pointless…and yet we all do it at one time or another. Thank for taking the time to comment. I am deeply grateful for you and to that little bird!

  7. I needed to hear this. Be kind. Be loving. Don’t beat yourself up. This is my mantra for the day thanks to your words. Thanks love.

  8. “We fly into and attack our essence when we deny or question or doubt our abilities, our passions, and skills that we are asked to share with the world to make it shine a bit brighter.”… “We only have to commit to bring the highest and grandest expressions of ourselves into all that we do, to make the world better, to make it brighter, one heartbeat at a time.”

    Oh dear friend, once again…wow! LOVED this post. No rambling there, just fountains of wisdom.

    Yes, I too can be like that cardinal, berating myself, questioning my self, my skills…. I too go into that “who do I think I am anyway”- mode. That is where the rambling happens. We need to come face to face with our rambling selves every once in a while. See what is really there, and what was only imagined.

    And it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in this. This behavior is mirrored all around us, to help us recognise it in ourselves. We can often find compassion for another, but you’re only truly compassionate for another once you can also be compassionate for your (yes, even your rambling) self.

    Love you!

    1. Yvon,
      Thanks for this comment! Got to love that sweet little bird:-) I’m really looking forward to going through the class together again…We will be reminded of the grandness in all things. Love you my friend!! xoxoxo

  9. I heard once that birds who go an dive into something, or kill themselves in your presence to get your attention did so to help out a soul in the realm of the absolute in order to call your attention to something while in the grieving process. This happened to someone I know, and when I visited the land they lived upon, noticed a vibe and many sounds that said to me that there was a message to the grieving ones to hear.

    1. AHHH…Peter! Yes…I had read this as well…but didn’t include in the post. I was POSITIVE Rocky was sending me a message. As soon as I watched that bird FLY into the window…I thought, “Rocky” is trying to tell me something. I’ve been so creatively blocked since his death…and I do feel like he came through this bird to give me the message I took from it. Thank you for reading and sharing your thoughts! I always appreciate your comments. “SEE” you soon in Neale’s class:-) xoxox

  10. I haven’t been very good at reading my emails lately (or blogs or much of anything online, really) and missed this post when it came out in July. But I’m glad I did because I didn’t need it as much then as I do right now. Like, in this very moment.

    As you know, I’m working on my next novel and it’s been going great. Well, it was going great…until last week when I started rereading a book on writing kidlit (Writing Irresistible Kidlit – I highly recommend it if you haven’t read it yet – just don’t read it while you’re in the process of writing, if you’re anything like me) that I’d previously read before I started writing the book.

    It stopped me cold. Made me realize all the things I wasn’t doing, all the things I was missing in my story, all the things that I was clearly horrible at. The first of which was writing. Period. Because if I was a good writer, I’d have put all of those things in my story. Right?

    Then… then! As if rereading that book weren’t enough to send me into fits about my lack as a word herder…I read a wonderful, beautiful, poetic book called “The Sky Is Everywhere” by Jandy Nelson. It has its flaws for sure, I think all books do, but it’s one of the most beautifully WRITTEN stories I’ve read in a long time.

    It crushed me. Crushed my creativity under the weight of its awesomeness. It was the cardinal smashing into my window.

    “I’ll never be able to write like that.” Those. Words. Over. And. Over.


    So, I’m scraping myself up off the floor today and sitting down to finish my horribly written story now, because, well…I have no choice. The only way out is through. The only way to get better is to keep doing it. To silence those nasty rotten voices, calm the cardinal, and just do it.

    Thank you for sharing this, Susan. As always, a light in my dark tunnel. And, as always, A BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN POST.

    Much love.

    P.S. I’m glad you saved that poor cardinal from himself. Jeesh. 🙂

    1. Oh…how much do I LOVE this story you shared and how much I love you! When such a talented, beautiful prolific writer like you can have those doubts, anyone can. Thank you for sharing this, Kelly. I’m going to buy both books you recommend so I can learn and NOT attack that doubter inside of me. I can’t wait to read your new story. Go after SISTER! Sending tons of love your way! xo And as always, thanks for reading:-)

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