To Live Deeply, You Need to Be a Cardinal

A poet would know how to turn what I saw into words that would move you, but I’m not a poet, so I’ll just tell you what I saw.

I saw a dozen grackles, with their shiny iridescent blue black heads, eating the seeds scattered on the ground around the tree and everything out of every feeder. A tufted titmouse, goldfinches, and house sparrows watched silently from above.

Like all bullies, grackles talk big, but they’re easily startled; their phony bravado is laid bare by the smallest of peripheral movement. They flew away, in a patterned rhythm, to the shelter of another tree. Left in their wake were two cardinals, a male and a female, perched one above the other on a small branch inches from the ground. Defiant, or maybe just hungry, they were lovely in their red and gray feathers.

*Stock photo

My ten-year-old granddaughter told me that cardinals hold the spirits of loved ones who have died. Mae said that when she sees a cardinal, she sees her grandma Julia, and I believe her. Ten year olds have a much better sense of these things than we adults do. And so I considered the pair on the branch, and I thought about my dad and how he never seemed afraid of anything.

I, on the other hand, have been afraid since I can remember. Afraid of the dark, afraid of storms, afraid of pain and sorrow. Lately, working on a few bold projects, projects outside my comfort zone, the fictitious haters in my head have weakened me, have me believing some of what they say. So when I saw those cardinals, so brave or hungry or both, I decided to take Mae’s advice and talk to my dad.

“Dad,” I said, “I think I need to stay small and under the radar. It’s safer there.”

He said back, “Lynnie, don’t worry what anyone else thinks,” because no one believed in me like my dad did.

It’s safer to be a grackle, yes, but if I truly want to live in the fullness of all that life throws at me, I know I need to be a cardinal.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms…” From Walden by Henry David Thoreau

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