I spent two days in a convent recently while my little sister took her first vows. It was beautiful, and a good place to get my head together. And it was a good place to let everything fall apart, too.
I’m mostly good with accepting things as they are, or, I always thought I was, anyway. But there are always situations that try my patience and sanity. Especially in the last year, I’ve discovered that I have a masochistically stubborn side, a part of my heart and mind that hates to give up with insufficient regard for self-preservation. I’d been nursing a metaphorical bird, you see. Let's call her Hope. It was clinging to life when I found it, and I tended and fretted and watched over it ardently, refusing to accept the possibility of its demise. It was, after all, the most beautiful bird I’d ever seen—and I wasn’t about to give up on it.
But the bird kept changing. Its wings would change color, its character, its emotions. It would be healing one moment, barely hanging on the next. The bird left me grinning with joy sometimes, and then weeping in agony just as quickly.
I brought my bird with me to The Motherhouse of the Little Sisters of Christian Charity in New Jersey, and while I was there, the wonderful nuns of SCC were gracious and kind enough to allow me to stay at The Villa—a donated mansion turned retreat house for visitors.
My bird and I stayed peacefully in The Villa—at first—while I was caught up in the goings on of my family, reconnecting with my past, which, surprisingly, managed to remind me pleasantly of who I had become. I walked on the grounds with Sister Squared (my nickname for little sis), I prayed in a chapel, I dipped fingers to holy water for the first time in fifteen years. I was reconnecting solemnly with Self, questioning everything. Remembering everything.
Then, as I sat alone in the muggy coastal heat under a ceiling fan, contemplating dinner with the sisters, I got news that my poor little bird had flatlined. She was coding. Again.
My gut dropped. Last I had checked, her wing was broken, but she was hobbling along—perhaps on the way to recovery. I had hope for the outcome. But now, there she was, clinging to life once more. My precious little bird was suffering for breath. And so was I.
After a brief few moments of consideration, I felt something shift in my heart. I didn’t move to try and save her this time. I just sat and watched—heart aching—as she labored. And I realized that I was exhausted from keeping her alive. That keeping her alive was killing me. I’d been feeding her my air for so long and now I was running out, and I found myself doing the unthinkable: I turned away and left her on her own.
Maybe she was meant to die, you know? Maybe she wasn’t. But the fact is, I couldn’t keep this vigil up anymore. It was depleting me, reviving her so often on my own. She had to want to live. And that wasn’t up to me. I had to release control. The ultimate lesson—little bird was teaching me acceptance. No matter what.
Acceptance was harder for me than I thought. But being so separated from my life in Seattle, from the noise of it, the emotions of it, and surrounded by reminders of all that had helped make me who I am today gave me the inner quiet to begin accepting things with grace.
I guess we all have a bird we’re struggling and praying over, crying to keep alive. But there comes a point when we have to honor that maybe the bigger lesson is in its death. Maybe the miracles come after and they don’t look the way we expected. Maybe we have to learn to ask the hard questions with grace and prepare to let go of the outcomes. Maybe it’s all about unconditional faith. You know….like unconditional love…the two go hand-in-hand. Not just for the sake of others, but every bit as importantly, for ourselves. Sometimes, we have to let our little birds, the ones that are foolish enough to believe we can control one damned thing beyond the present moment, die so we can fully live.