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.
Three 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.
Many 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.