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“Click!” sounded the front door as it was pushed open, the gutter still dripping from the early morning squall. She shook her umbrella and stepped inside.

It was her smooth chocolate hands—hands unflinchingly willing to serve—that first quickened my heart to her inner riches, warmed by a bright smile.

I first experienced her caring hands, three years ago, while convalescing from multiple fractures. She supported my daily efforts toward independence and knew when to step back as I regained more responsibility over my affairs. In subsequent years, we remained friends as more of her story emerged.

Widowed with three little ones, grandmother, decades of caring for patients in hospitals and skilled nursing homes: all have gentled her hands, with when to touch and when to let go. In private homes, no housework was too much: cleaning, washing, scrubbing, cooking, mopping. No errands slighted. Transportation to doctors’ offices, emergency rooms, and rehab also supported her patients. Informing the work of her hands has been the lifelong study of the bible with its ancillary materials.

However, due to my terminal illness with its weakness and shortness of breath, she has returned to my home: This time, to watch and support my gradual decline as I move toward my transition. She has also lined up additional caregivers when my needs increase. Handy with the hose, she presently keeps my grass watered and the marigolds pruned.

I remain in good hands and I’m grateful. She has become the black sister I never had.

Her name is Tracy McNeil. (618-975-1001)

It happened on an overcast March morning, usual in every respect, save reports of some infectious disease, distant from us. Not our concern, we said, getting the kids readied for school and shoving off to work. Little did we suspect…

 

Like the galloping invasion of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, pestilence, war, famine, and death have trounced our land and drastically altered our usual manner of functioning. At first, denial and rationalization softened the blow until weeks mushroomed into months, with rising numbers of those infected and dying from Covid-19.

As if the pandemic was not enough—Like a flashpoint, the George Floyd killing ignited demonstrations for police reform, both peaceful and violent, morphing into deeper mayhem, confusion, and polarization of our country. Meanwhile, exhaustion seeps into psyches, waters down problem solving, and thins endurance—A deadly scenario that cries for radical change, one found in the Gospels.

In my perception, the will to embrace the radical change that Jesus taught appears thin. Few care about cultivating humility, honesty, and love; it’s too costly—Easier to resolve problems with compromise.

Only such change of heart will bring about the longed-for restoration of our country that may or may not come in our lifetime. Besides, the work of the Four Horsemen is not finished—evil, far worse than the virus, still has us in its sway.

So what to do in the interim? From parched hearts, we pray for deep watering, one that cleanses and restores, despite the continuing tumult crashing around us. Protection does comes.

 

Pre-dawn raindrops glisten the leaves of the viburnum shrub outside my study window as the sky lightens and clothes the backyard with color. Another morning tiptoes with expectations for more cardinal feedings: their chicks, newly winged and feathered, beaks ravenous for more mashed seeds. Last evening, the chicks flitted around the nest like little princesses at their first ball. Such was their beginnings as fledglings.

Hours pass. No flickers of red/brown wings zoom toward the nest. No brown tail hugs its side. No breezes disturb the branches of the viburnum. All is strangely quiet, unlike other mornings the past ten days, alive with feedings, zinging back and forth. A sickening sense grips me: the cardinal family is gone. It was their time.

I am both impoverished and enriched. No longer will I squeal in delight with beak-to-beak feedings. No longer will I marvel at their alighting and takeoff, branches trembling with movement. No longer will I study their symmetrical wings, preening in the sun.

But I’m also enriched. My psyche will forever carry the imprint of the cardinals’beauty, their chirrup, their instinctual caring. They knew to abandon the nest for the continued rearing of their chicks, its usefulness completed.

Other lessons gleaned from these winged creatures also enhance my practice of CPA’s Twelve Steps: accepting life on life’s terms, willingness, teachability, letting go, trusting in the continued feedings, from wherever they come.

And Jesus of Nazareth loved birds: Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? (Mt 6:26)

Whole-hearted surrender must follow…

 

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