The Magic of Birds


My husband believes in birds.


After his father died, he felt certain birds were a sign from his father.  “Not all birds,” he told me.  “But sometimes, when I’m running, I can feel a bird watching me.  And I know it’s him.”

I didn’t believe him.  I didn’t say this, of course, but I’m sure my raised eyebrows and slightly condescending Hmmm gave it away.  He never really talked about it again until the day after our son died and a bird walked into our house.

We were sitting at the kitchen table, surrounded by platters of uneaten food when we heard a bird chirping in the den.  I sat there frozen, while Michael jumped up and grabbed the potholders.  After a quick chase, he cornered the bird in the laundry room.  He set it out the window and came back to the kitchen.

“I think it was Brendan,” he said, his voice filled with wonder.  “He’s telling us he’s okay.”  I wanted to say no, because I didn’t  believe in the power of birds, but grief made me desperate.  I grabbed hold of his hands.  I felt the potholders between us, but we held on tight.  “He’s okay,” we whispered.  “He’s okay, ” we told each other all through the night.

We survived those early days by telling stories about Brendan, stories that mixed laughter and tears together, finding a way to celebrate his fifteen years.  We talked about his love of food and how he craved the smell of meat so much he wanted a crockpot for his 14th birthday.  “I want it in my room,” he’d said when I told him we already had one.  “That way I’d wake up to the smell of meat everyday.”

And because we needed new stories, we told the Sparrow Story over and over.

The bird’s wing was injured and yet none of us tried to help this bird.  Somehow, we felt this tiny sparrow was here to help us. Soon others added their own story.

“He hopped up to me and said hello as I put out your garbage,” my father said.  

The bird made its way across the street and into our neighbor’s garage.  “Our dog never barked, never once moved,”  they told us.  “It was your son,” and their confidence, their absolute certainty that this bird was my son, filled me with gratitude.

I told my own story the day of the funeral when I heard tapping on the back door.  I opened the blinds and there was the sparrow, looking at me, his head tilted, waiting for me to believe.  I finally nodded and the bird hopped away.

After a few days, the sparrow disappeared but others came in its place, making a new home within our trees.  They tapped on the back door for hours, until I was tempted to let them into the house.  Michael went to the store and bought a birdhouse, hanging it on the tree we planted when I was pregnant with Brendan.  Within hours, all the seed was gone.

Today, I drink my morning coffee while three birds cling to the window screen.  I can hear the rustling of their feathers and their chirps as they sing to each other.  Their claws have ripped tiny holes in the mesh.  Most of our window screens now have holes in them, and sometimes I move from window to window, poking my finger through the rough openings.  I’m not in any hurry to fix the screens.

I’m still not sure what all of these birds mean, but I watch them anyway, grateful that today,  I have a new story to tell.