It’s freezing out. Literally, things are freezing by the minute, like car doors and the cat’s water dish and I’m sitting in the comfort of my dining room watching the birds and squirrels partying at the feeders, relieved I filled them yesterday. It was so beautiful early today, waking up to a wonderland of fresh snow. So I took Rosie out for a walk. I didn’t realize how cold it was for about a half mile and then I turned back, noticing Rosie was slowing down , probably because the wind was about 40 miles an hour bringing the wind chill to around zero. I thought she was going to just freeze between steps and fall over like the sled dogs did in the old North Pole arctic explorer movies I’d watch as a kid. We made it home and thawed out.
The birds seem incredibly well-mannered considering the Farnsworth’s backyard must be one of the few places open on this winter day. If they were humans it would be ugly. The snow is swirling into big gusts, making flight a little harder but they look like they are at a picnic. Even the squirrels look undisturbed, brushing snow from seed on the ground. The thermostat reads eighteen.
From Christmas through January there is a subtle melancholy over my days and the birds are a great distraction. January 26th is the anniversary of my son, Spencer’s death. It’s a pervasive sorrow that rests upon my soul, and it makes me feel restless and unfocused. I notice it most when I am still, or looking at the sky and remembering eleven years ago like it was yesterday. The Super Bowl makes me sad. The constellations in the winter sky haunt me. Then three weeks later, his birthday, a day spent in silent reflection, remembered with me by family, a few close friends and of course Jesus.
My younger brother, who worked as a hospital chaplain a few years back, told me he was visiting a woman in a nursing home one day who was 103. Her mind was sharp and they were having a great conversation until he mentioned it was Memorial Day. He said her eyes filled with tears and she pushed her wheel chair back. “You’ll have to excuse me. I lost my son in World War ll.” And she wheeled back to her room. World War ll. That’s 70 years ago. It’s a peculiar thing in a mother, but God put it there.
July 28th was the day one of my other brothers died, in 1964. Every year we all packed into the Ford Country Squire station wagon and drove down to the cemetery. There were tall climbing trees and huge monuments to play hide ‘n seek between. My parents stood apart and looked down at the little plot covered in ivy, mostly quiet. When I left home, I called my mom on that day every year. I’ve always been good at remembering dates. I still remember the Beatles birthdays, not kidding. She always appreciated the call even though there wasn’t much to say. I remembered.
I read somewhere recently that birds abandon their nests after they have their babies. It seemed like an impulsive decision to me. Winter comes, the wind and cold. Wouldn’t a nest seem cozy? Instead they just perch somewhere. Maybe they perch close together on days like today.
Mama doesn’t remember July 28th anymore. I even mentioned it to her once a couple of years ago to see if there was a glint of recognition, any little sting of sorrow. But nothing. Dementia has mercifully erased it all and I felt happy for her, that she was free from this type of darkness, but a little sadder for me.
I still remember July 28th and of course January 26th. I remember Spence at the prime of his life, after 21 birthdays, a beautiful, gentle and courageous man who laughed easily. And I remember his pain, confusion and torment of his soul. I remember that first week after he was gone, how strange it felt to be frail, that there were lots of things I couldn’t do, like drive, dress or pray. I could only say, God where are you?
I can’t decide whether memory is a good thing or an awful thing. In January I wish it would go away, I wish I could be free like my mom. But in that darkness and sense of dread, I feel God so close to me, I even feel Him near me as I watch the birds, like He is pointing me to something.. The same God who accommodates the freezing little chickadee will calm the storm inside of my soul and His grace will use the harshness of life’s sorrow to draw me again and again close into Him, under His wing, within the shadow of the Almighty. Maybe the birds understand something I don’t. Manna. Sufficient for today. My grace is sufficient for thee.
I hear the wind knocking at the windows and I feel safe and a strange peace reaches down into my heart, like a hand pressing against a place that hurts. I am thankful, and soon, in that secret place, I can only praise Him, for birds, and even squirrels, and family and friends that perch close to me in the storm. Jehovah Shammah: the Lord who is there. Thank you.