I'm searching for signs. Or maybe the signs are coming to me and I'm just trying to interpret them.
Last spring a mother and father cardinal built a nest right outside our kitchen window. We were front-row spectators as mother cardinal sat, day after day, warming her three eggs. I could empathize with her, since I was in the last trimester of my pregnancy. We were both waiting, together, for our babies to come.
We watched father cardinal bring her food. And then, we saw the miracle of new life before our eyes: three tiny baby cardinals, hardly distinguishable one from the other as they lay huddled together at the bottom of the nest. We watched their feathers become puffy and then sleek. We saw their mouths greedily open, vying for food from their diligent parents. And then we saw the babies take their precarious first flights, half flying, half falling from branch to branch.
It could have been any bird, but why cardinals? Was it happenstance? Or God's design that in His providence He knew I would look back on this small event and find comfort?
My memory works in strange ways. I can't always remember what I ate for dinner yesterday, but I remember some of the events of summer 2019 with astonishing clarity. I remember a walk I took in our neighborhood one July evening. It was still hot outside and I was walking because my due date was just days away and I wanted to encourage our baby boy to be on his way.
I'll never forget that walk because I was talking to my brother, Michael. He was in the hospital--not an unusual occurrence for him, unfortunately. But this time was different because now it was terminal, though neither of us knew it at the moment. He asked me what I made for dinner, which was his daily question for me. He was telling me all the news about family members, aunts and uncles and cousins. He told me that our Dad's birthday was coming up and, once he was out of the hospital, he wanted to go to TJ Maxx and buy our Dad a present. He was talking about all the simple and beautiful things Michael always talked about--things of little and immense significance at the same time ... the small things that really matter, not grudges or resentments or criticisms, but things like the sun coming out from behind the clouds.
I drive on that road now and think about that summer evening. It looks different covered in snow, with trees bare of leaves. Summer will come again, but that conversation will not.
God sent His Word into the world and that Word is enough for me. I have faith in that Word. "I am the way, the truth, and the life." I don't need more than that. But maybe God sends signs anyway.
After Michael died, we met with our funeral direction, a devote Catholic, neighbor, and fellow parishioner who knew Michael since he was a little boy. She told us that we might see signs from heaven, little things that are Michael's way of telling us that he is okay. She mentioned cardinals, who have had a history of that sort of thing.
This morning at breakfast a cardinal appeared outside, right near the nest they had built last year. I jumped out of my chair, breathless at the sight. Was it a sign? A message from Michael? I cleared away the breakfast dishes. I didn't need signs, though. And it was probably just a bird, flying around on a snowy winter morning.
But then our youngest daughter called out, "There's two red birds!" She was the apple of Michael's eye. And sure enough, high in the trees were two brilliant red cardinals, flying from branch to branch together.
I'm grateful for the signs.
I'm grateful for the cardinals.