That bird has come to that same spot on our back deck every day for two years, I thought as I drank my coffee and watched the sunrise in the woods around my house.
It was no coincidence. Two years since the world shut down. Two years since Dad was diagnosed with cancer that took him three months later, leaving me isolated in a frightened, chaotic world, with nothing but the trees and this sole bird singing on the banister to remind me that the world still turned. Two years since the life I knew came unraveled and wove into a new tapestry of reality.
The bird looked around the woods in the pre-dawn grew. It flew in from the trees that swayed over this place since my great-grandparents built the homeplace. The trees that watched two generations of my family pass everyday life, weathering seasons and circumstances, standing through trials, finding new hope and opportunity, until their purpose in this world was complete and a new generation came to repeat the cycle.
The story continues. I recalled the earth-shattering phone call as I sat at this kitchen table, my work interrupted by the call from Mom that it was cancer. The repeated calls, hospitalizations, ambulance sirens, Facetime calls (no visitors in the hospital), rehab, chemo side effects, reports, and then one day, hospice. I sat in the refuge of my home in these woods after every call, fighting the truth that this would change everything trying to pierce through my denial. Then the final “he’s gone” at 9:20 p.m. two days before my 45th birthday. Thanks to COVID restrictions we were sent home at 6 p.m., so he passed with a nurse he never knew sitting at his bedside instead of us, his family. The uncomfortable conversation with the head of the cemetery committee two days later, standing on the plot where my beloved father would be laid to rest near my grandparents who went to their eternal home over thirty years prior. She didn’t just want to know where we were going to bury Dad in two days. She wanted to mark the plat to show where the remaining family members would be buried. It was my 45th birthday. Happy birthday, Sherri. Where do you want to be planted when you leave this earth and your birthday is nothing but a date etched in stone? I told her that was too much future planning for me. She mumbled a happy birthday and told me to pick a spot.
The bird sang. I remembered returning to the office a year ago, awkward after a year of silence in my retreat in these woods. I missed the quiet of working from home with nothing but my parrots and that bird outside breaking the silence until my husband got home. The work flowed, but the hallway conversations stuck me as meaningless. Everything had changed, but these people were cramming it back into a box, pretending that everything was normal despite the void of loss, the sickening side effects of vaccines, and the silent anxiety that filled the air with every sneeze and cough that emanated from a cubicle. I got an ulcer, no doubt as a result of my unhealthy coping mechanisms. The office park that I once saw as beautiful was alien to me. They weren’t my trees. This wasn’t my home. This wasn’t even the world I knew.
The bird sang in the rising light. My husband had emergency brain surgery. I was grateful he got the miracle healing that Dad was denied, but healing from surgery is intensive. I didn’t know what to do, and nobody had time to do anything but tell me to figure it out and get back to work. They forgot that my father had passed thirteen months prior. It happened during COVID isolation, so they didn’t witness that tragedy. It was non-existent, merely a side note in their minds. I appreciated the privacy of lockdown during the early stages of grief but came to see the disadvantage when people started with the “take medication to get through it” suggestions. They were dealing with their own stress from rebuilding life and didn’t have time for other people to be anything outside of their expectations. I struggled with crippling anxiety and sought a counselor and psychiatrist. I didn’t want medication to mask my symptoms. I wanted to grab the problem by the root and deal with it from the bottom to the top. No shortcuts for me. They respected my wishes and agreed that medication was too aggressive to start with, given the stress in my life. I needed to be bold, to build my personal “new normal” and return to the now of finding life beyond loss and change. We’re all struggling. That I understood. I was tired of being patient. Tired of standing up to trials. Tired of grieving. Tired of crying. Tired of the moodiness. Tired of the confusion. Tired of overcoming circumstances. Tired of dusting myself off and trying again.
The bird sang. I took the professional advice by taking life day by day and trying their suggestions. It felt silly and forced at first, but eventually, I felt changes in my soul. I cut my hair and donated it a month after my husband’s surgery. My husband asked if we could modify our exercise routine so he could regain his strength. The encouraging, cheerful trainers on the exercise videos encouraged us to use fitness as a motivator to improve every area of life. I started talking to people again. I saw the beauty of the tree-lined office park where I work again, no longer foreign but welcoming me with over a decade of familiarity. I pushed past my triggers to publish the book I was writing when Dad was sick and passed. I finally started a journal. One day, when I pushed open a door for a coworker in the office and she said “girl, you’re strong!” I noticed the muscles in my arms and thought, for the first time in two years, that perhaps I was. All of us are. We have to find that strength, and some days it’s easier than others. I woke up, not from a dream but from the isolation of a lost world giving birth to a new reality.
The bird sang. I ran into the next-door neighbor’s son one day. He said his father passed three months ago from pancreatic cancer. His story was so much like my father’s story that I couldn’t believe it: a sudden diagnosis, three months of intensive struggle, and then gone. We didn’t know because it happened around the same time as my husband’s surgery. I realized that these trees witnessed more than just my trials: they saw the trials of the world. I don’t own them, I merely borrow this space, during my time, as part of the circle of life. My isolation was an illusion. My struggles, while personal, were also universal. The pandemic shook the Earth and everybody in it to the core, and we’re all healing. Trials touched all of humanity these past two years. No wonder there’s so much chaos and anger in the world. If my journey was an indicator, then we were all working through the confusion of grief and chaos. My experience was both personal and universal, connected to the symphony of life on planet Earth. We all hurt. We lost all we knew, but the Earth can heal, and so can we. That’s one of the greatest gifts of life. Not all is lost. We can heal, and become a new whole filled with realization to create a better life for tomorrow.
The bird sang in full sunlight. The sun illuminated hope for a new day. Life is wonderful. Life is awful. Life is beautiful and ugly, simple and complicated, confusing and clear. It is all of these things. It is everything, and that’s what makes it the unique symphony that is the wonder of our existence and purpose. We are part of Earth’s mosaic of the profound and beautiful meaning of life. I saw in part what Dad sees in whole now. Beauty, purpose, and truth comes in layers as we make the journey. Someday the full picture will be revealed, beyond space and time, beyond the perception of the sphere of Earth. Until then my purpose in this beautiful world, created just for me, remains.
A gust of wind swept through the yard, prompting the bird to flight. I’ve traveled a long road, and yet I am alive. Like those trees, I’m still here and ready to thrive again in a new season of life. We are alive and creating in synchrony with this beautiful world. It is both a unique part and a lovely whole. I took my final sip of coffee and opened the glass door, walking into the embrace of the cool morning air. Golden rays descended from the clear blue sky, illuminating the trees in glorious spring green. It was going to be a good day. I could feel it as I stood under the swaying trees and took a deep breath of a new day.