I have given up running for Lent, and I am not happy about it. I twisted my ankle and fell on a run a couple weeks ago, spraining one ankle and both wrists, and I have been advised not to run for another month. It’s driving me crazy.
I might have preferred to give up teenagers. I currently live with three of them, and they seem to have outpaced my patience. Nothing makes me happier than having all four of our sons together with us at mass, but not today. Cell phones in church, pinching each other in the pews, I swear Jesus is still stuck between their teeth when the bickering resumes.
I could really use a short run, but instead I’m resigned to a long sit. I am not an excellent sitter. I am terrified of inertia.
On the day of Sam’s funeral, one of his clients – a woman I had never met – brought me a little bird in a wicker cage. With some urgency, she explained to me that when I got home, I was to release this bird, and as the bird flew off, he would take with him my troubles. Sparrow. Sorrow. Got it. It seemed a meaningful tradition, and I was touched that this woman (whose name I still don’t know) thought enough of Sam to share it with me.
And so, the little bird accompanied me in the limousine from the gravesite to the reception. I’m pretty sure that somebody took him to a safe place for the afternoon. I can’t remember. There’s a lot I don’t remember from that day. It was warm. I remember that. Lots of people wanted to help, so I’m certain somebody must have been delegated bird duty, because the bird came home with me later. I really was looking forward to this magic bird taking flight with all my worries, which seemed to be mounting by the minute. It was, however, only a very small bird.
The boys wanted to keep the bird. Not a chance. I had burdens enough already and this sorrow sparrow was here to lighten my load. We sat together on the front porch, expectantly – dare I say, optimistic, for the first time in a week – and reverently said our thank you’s and farewells. We opened the cage door.
The last time we participated in a bird release, the boys had been given a pair of homing pigeons during a week of summer science camp, and those pigeons darted out of their cage and took off so quickly we could barely snap a picture. If we had thought to bring out the camera on this occasion, we could have taken photographs and developed the film ourselves before the someday sparrow even stretched his wings. I mean, that fucking bird did not budge.
At first I thought maybe he was dead too. He blinked. I was flooded with relief that I hadn’t killed him. He blinked again. Now I was getting irritated. He had work to do, and if he didn’t start flapping I would have to end his little life myself. But my boys were still watching, so we sat. All four of us – two little boys, a disheartened mom, and a flightless bird. The boys soon lost interest and went into the house. The still bird sat there, torturing me with his misguided hope.
I put some water out. It was the least I could do for him since he was about to fly off into the sunset with the weight of my world on his avian shoulders. After a long while he hopped out of the cage and onto the grass. Eventually he opened his wings, and flew up, up, up … right into my crape myrtle, about 8 feet from my front door. Not the progress I anticipated. He perched there for an hour, the sun began to set, and I was getting cold. This business about flying off with my problems was slow going. I went inside. I imagine the little bird spent the night in my yard gathering his strength for our mourning.
Come daylight, the little bird was gone, and while he didn’t exactly fly off with all my troubles in tow as I had hoped, he did leave me with a lesson. I might just need to sit with my cares for a while. They will take flight eventually, if I am willing to let them go. A very small bird brought hope into my very dark world, after all.
And so I attempt to sit with my sprained ankle propped and iced. It occurs to me that I spent the first 40 years of my life not running; the 40-day hiatus will pass, and I will hit the trails again. I notice that all of the following are within arm’s reach: my calendar, a laptop, two novels, a neuropsychologist’s latest book on the teenage brain, three writing projects, a lesson I’ve prepared for a Junior Great Books session at our local elementary school, a bottle of water, a cup of coffee, a stack of folded laundry, a summer school application, a daily prayer book and my cell phone. I do not know why I’m so afraid. By all appearances, I am constitutionally incapable of inertia.
Every now and again my husband and I will sneak out to church early on a Sunday morning, and leave our boys sleeping at home. They love these mornings. With all their growing and studying and extra-curriculars, they need the rest. And without all their kinetic energy, we appreciate the quiet, peaceful mornings too. Sometimes, we just need to sit.
Maybe what I need for this healing is stillness, a little patience with the process, a dash of faith in my own ability to heal. And so, leaving the noise and accoutrements behind, I head for the bath and sit. Just soaking up warmth and silence and trust. Inhale, exhale, repeat. And I remember the promise of the someday sparrow.
Wishing you light and strength on your healing path. And patience. And a hopeful little bird.