“The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost.” – G.K. Chesterton
The Cardinal is one of the most popular birds. It is the official bird of as many as seven eastern states. It has extended northward for decades from its primary habitat in the southeast. The Cardinal brightens winter days with its distinctive red color. As well its whistled song can be heard as far north as southeastern Canada. Bird feeders stocked with sunflower seeds may have aided its northward spread. – referenced, “Audubon Society”
When I was a young boy undergoing physical therapy as a result of polio, I would attend school on a half day basis until the therapy had best prepared me for full days. I was scheduled for therapy three days per week at the local Easter Seals Rehabilitation Center, since being released from the convalescent hospital, where I had spent nine months in recovery since the onset of the disease.
On those half days my mom would pick me up from school and take me to one of a number of parks in our area. There we would enjoy a homemade lunch that she had prepared or stop by a local food establishment for a slice of pizza or a chili-dog. We would spend about an hour or so talking. Most of the conversation encompassed how my day went, as I adjusted to my school and classmates. Otherwise we simply enjoyed the lunch, small talk (as I was but a first grader) and the outdoors. Then off we would be, on to my P.T. session. As the therapist ran me through my paces, mom patiently waited for me, often bringing a good book to read.
On one of those outings, while we were enjoying our lunch, something caught my attention. As I looked off in the distance, I had noticed a peculiar thing. Well, it seemed peculiar to me at the time. I saw what I thought was an apple fall from a tree. Not that that is peculiar, because apples often fall from trees. But, on this particular occasion, the apple went back up into the tree. My mother quickly solved the anti-gravity mystery. I found that, what was peculiar for an apple was not peculiar for a Cardinal. That was the first time that I had ever seen one. My mom told me that the Cardinal was her favorite bird. It was her favorite not solely because of its vibrant red color and sweet song, but that it stayed here the year round; adding color to the drab winter until spring returned. That day, the Cardinal became my favorite bird as well; something that we would always share.
Decades later, during my mom’s last days, the burdens of that winter were particularly difficult. However, less burdensome than the cross she carried and the concern that was shared by we who did all we could, limited by our understanding, to care for and comfort her. My mom’s bed was by her window. From time to time her suffering was eased by the pleasant distraction of a visitor just outside her window. The pleasant distracting visitor was a beautiful crimson Cardinal. Its bright red feathers stood out prominently against the white background of snow. I’m sure it brought the thought of spring to her and that golf season, which she loved so much, was not far off.
It has been some fourteen years since my mom’s passing. As I write this piece, in front of me, is a window overlooking a wooded area outside my house. Often, when most unexpected, I am pleasantly distracted by a visitor; a Cardinal hopping though the snow or perched on a bare tree limb. It is at a time like this that I am reminded of a shared commonality; an everlasting bond. A time when apples became Cardinals, and affirmed in me, that my mom was the apple of my eye. It is in these rare precious moments that one simple and comforting thought comes to mind; after which I whisper, Hi Mom.