A very nice woman came into my life recently. She helped me de-clutter my apartment and reorganize the stuff I chose to keep. A professional, she surveyed my space at our first meeting and quickly assessed what was important to me. Among my most important possessions, she judged correctly, were things my mother gave me. On the day of her last visit, the woman who was helping me unearthed a handmade wooden cardinal from a box in the back of my closet, and held it out to me.
"My mother gave that to me," I said, indicating I wanted to keep it.
"Ok, that's beginning to be not enough reason to keep things, " she replied, adding, "We're running out of room."
It was an uncharacteristic response, and it felt like a punch in the stomach. "You can put it on the top shelf there," I insisted. She scanned the shelf I pointed to, noting the things it already contained.
"That doesn't work for me," she responded.
"It works for me," I said.
Later that night, I thought about why that wooden cardinal is so important to me.
Outside the kitchen window of the house where I grew up, my mother hung a bird feeder every winter. She faithfully kept it filled so she could watch the birds come and go from its perch. One afternoon as I sat at the kitchen table, I happened to glance out the window. I was awestruck. There at the bird feeder, in stark contrast to the gray sky and snow covered ground, was a brilliant red cardinal. I shared my sense of wonder with my mother. Neither of us mentioned that moment again. The following Christmas, which was about a year later, I looked at my very full stocking as I came downstairs. Pushing its way out of the top of the knitted material was a handmade wooden red cardinal. My mother said not a word, but I knew--It was a bond between us forever.
This was suppose to be a reflection on the stories we miss--on the clues we fail to pick up and the stories we never hear because we are tired or harassed or too preoccupied to listen. It would have been good to think about that. But this past week has changed the contours of my mind in huge ways, as it has changed the contours of so much else in the world. Now this is just about something I learned from my mother: Cardinals come in the winter. I need to spread the seeds which will eventually entice them to come.