THE HOLY CARDINAL
Electric red, distinctive sounds, bright beauty, the male cardinal is a reminder to me that everything is OK. My cardinal friend is not always available to me as that reminder, but it is like he knows just when I may be on the edge of a personal discovery or on the top of a mountain ready to spread my own wings and then he lets me know. By a sound or a fly by or a perch, always there to say, Alayne, you are ok, everything is ok right here, right now. Be here right here right now.
This cardinal experience for me started when I moved out of my marriage house and into my own condo. I used to walk a lot because my condo was on the water right at the bike path in Bristol, RI and it was a nature dream. Nature always settles me and as one can imagine, leaving a marriage after twenty years required a lot of nature (or alcohol and I wasn’t drinking so plan b) I decided on my many walks that I was really inept at being able to identify bird sounds so I made that a focus on my walks. Being the beach girl that I am, I already knew the sound of seagulls, but recognizing the basic sounds of birds that I witnessed my entire life visually like bluebirds, robins, and sparrows made me feel like I was part of their symphony.
The first time I heard an Osprey before seeing one because I recognized their sounds felt so satisfying. Yes I know there is an app for this bird sound recognition, just like there is an app for the bird itself. I stare at my Field Guide to Birds of North America that my grandmother’s friends, The Dewey Sisters, sent me reminding me that there was a very full life before apps. I am like an old soul on nature’s quest. The book also reminds me that I neglected to send them a thank you note for the book, but I smile at the imperfection of my manners knowing that I am not perfect and I am surely forgiven though I imagine my neglect was talked about over their daily tea in the afternoon.
I take out my old fashioned bird book every once in a while when I see a bird I don’t easily recognize and try to find it. This small task projects me into the present moment as does filling the bird feeders and watching the birds from my window and garden. The first time I really started noticing cardinals was on these healing walks as I contemplated my new life no longer married, and kind of a temporary nomad since I left my home as well. It seemed that every time I would be having any moments of doubt, a fiery red cardinal would come darting by me to remind me to pay attention.
The great thing about google is the instantaneous answer to random thoughts. I googled “Symbolism of a red cardinal.” A boatload of answers came up that all seemed to match where I was at the time. Wake up. Pay attention. Be bold. Stay present. Today when I looked up my cardinal, instead it said “When a cardinal visits your yard, it is a visitor from heaven.”
Well well well. Father’s day. Art in the garden, my barn, living completely in the present with my dear friend, Karen who had come back to my house to complete our art project from the day before. We decided to make more art for our gardens on a beautiful Sunday morning. Here’s the thing though, twenty years ago when my brother died, I had already taken several expressive art classes and part of the incredible healing was a particular art project. I remember it so clearly and it was transforming. I was in my basement working on it and had a rush of grief that came out in a primal sound I have only made that one time. Something happened to me that day. I looked around at all of my stuff in the basement, dishes and cups that were in the “I will fix later” pile that I was never going to fix. That just sat there creating a guilty feeling of ridiculous inadequacy every time I looked at them. I walked over to them and started slamming them on the hard concrete basement floor, shattering them into all shapes and sizes. Crying and screaming while I was slamming. This took my breath away. I sobbed in a way that let every drop of emotion out of my body and I was changed. Those pieces became my first mosaic piece that has come with me on my travels and is a reminder to me that art heals me, like writing, art allows grief to work its way through and out.
This moment renewed my spirt. I never saved a broken dish to repair again, instead threw them in a bucket in a pile to be used in more mosaics. The further deliberate breaking of them is part of the process as the act is in itself a release. Whether throwing them on the ground or putting them in a big bucket and slamming them with a hammer, there is a surge of a feeling that comes up like puking but in a much less disgusting way better way.
So on Father’s Day three days before the summer solstice, Karen and I were out in my barn, slamming dishes and plates and cups to make garden art. As I was slamming the oversized end of a heavy metal wrench I have for some God forsaken reason since I have never needed or used one for that matter, into the bucket of plates, it was like the ghost of Christmas past present and future flashed before me. I saw my brother, my marriage, my home, my father, my cancer diagnosis and the doctor telling me to get my son checked for the BRCA2 gene unfold before me. Tears welled up as I continued to slam and bang the glass. There was one cup that I had in there that said, “Keep Calm and Carry On,” that would just not break. I laughed at the irony. That cup is going on the art piece somewhere for sure as the most obvious symbolism.
As we organized the chunks in some type of order, it was the two of us, two long time women friends who had witnessed all of these life experiences together. Two women who share a bond of unconditional love. Karen has taught me how to be a mother, how to be a good mother, a better mother by her example and her calmness.
Making art in my barn in my own home with a friend who I lived across the street from in my former life for twenty years was way more than a get together, it was a spiritual experience that once again changed me. So when the cardinal decided to show up in my neighbor’s tree, Dottie’s tree, my other maternal role model of a neighbor who also notices and loves cardinals like I do, it was the proverbial frosting on the already perfect cake. When the cardinal decided to not only sing to me, but land in a perfect spot and look right at me at the exact time I needed to hear the wake up call, I looked up with complete affirmation. When the cardinal flew by my face at about five feet distance not once, but twice, I stood breathless, humbled and in awe. When the cardinal landed on my soon to leave my yard fence and fly to my purple birdfeeder where Karen was taking some pictures of me in front of my barn and she snapped a picture of him. Speechless, I stood in the knowing that yes, Dad and Michael and Karen’s Mother, Phyllis and Dottie’s Husband, Armand decided to visit. I thank you, Holy Cardinal for your visit; everything is going to be alright.
The Holy Cardinal, a pic of me seeing the cardinal in the tree, Karen and me (aka-Wilma and Betty, Lucy and Ethel) my first mosaic. It’s big- about 3 feet x 4 feet