The sun was out in full and kept the wind from feeling too brisk on this Epiphany Day. I had my sun glasses on and had to shield my eyes much of the time with my left arm and mitten. Shortly after arriving on the corner, an older gentleman, “Mr. G.” approached me.
“I’m curious. I’ve seen you out here and I determined that the next time I saw you out here when I wasn’t driving, I was going to come and ask you about what you are doing. ”
Me: “I am looking to share a bit of joy. It’s a practice for the year.”
“But what is it that you are doing? You are just out here and it makes people curious. I just want to know: are you running for something or want something. What is it that you are out here for?”
Me: “Well, I am the pastor at the church up the hill.”
Mr G. “A-ha! A hook!” He said good-naturedly, but assinuatingly like he was relieved to uncover some catch. “You need a sign!”
Me: What would my sign say?
Mr. G: Something so people woule know what it is you are trying to get them to do. Looking for people.
Me: I am looking to wave. I wave to everybody no matter what their affiliation.
Mr. G.: Well it should all be the same for us on the other side. Don’t you reckon we all go to the same place in the end?
A conversation ensued stretching to the depths of his journey in Germany around the time of WWII and some of the trauma he experienced as a young boy. He talked of his church, his journeys, his time in the neighborhood. He smiled good-naturedly. I encouraged him to stop through and say hi again in the time to come.
On the way back from a Wilde Lake walk earlier in the afternoon, a parishioner and I spotted a little brown bird with oranage tufts on the Vantage Point road hill. It appeared disabled in some way. It was only able to flutter and hop a couple of inches. You could hear the call out from up above in the trees, but this little bird couldn’t seem to extend its’ wings all the way. It didn’t appear quite fully grown. My friend remarked, “Birds are so fragile.”
We were worried, but kept moving up back toward the church after a few moments, thinking our talking to it might distract it from making its way back in motion and upward to the calls of its family. “I hope I don’t see it when I am back down the hill to wave later.”
I didn’t see it on the walk to wave, but on the walk back, I spotted it. There it was lying on the sidewalk. In tact, but no longer living. Eyes closed. Prostrate. Wings slack at its side. Uncertain, I looked around for something to help move the bird out of the sidwalk. A branch. Something. Finally, channeling my best St. Francis energy, I gingerly scooped the bird in my mitten and placed it up the slope on a bed of pine needles. I prayerfully shifted pine needles to cover it.
I noted something new in me. This does not feel like an act I would have endeavored previously. Something about the care of all creatures. Something poignant and precious in the life of this one who struggled and succumbed. Some energy to move this small body away from the inevitable trample on the concrete. So near the corner where I stood, now a grave.
And there was the extended conversation with my six year-old tonight as we prayed before sleep. I told her about the bird and we talked of living and dying. We talked about caring for the earth and animals. “But, I heard about a jellyfish that lives forever, Mommy. Does anything live forever?”
I believe in the ripples of joy that radiate out and continue as we pass them on and as they find new generations. I believe in taking bold steps that speak through this “one wild and precious life” (Mary Oliver) beyond the hedge of comfortability. And for this, I’ve been led to the corner: for conversations with neighbors, for the new awakening to the tender moments with creatures great and small.
I just learned that two pedestrians were hit at another corner in Columbia this afternoon. One a six year-old child who has died. Oh, the tears that come for this young boy. And his mother, who had been at his side. Prayers flowing in the midst of what is unimaginable grief.
I can hear Mr. G’s question resurface lovingly into the mystery and heartaches of life: Don’t you reckon we all go to the same place in the end?
Pastor | Kittamaqundi Community Church | Columbia, Maryland