Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Sometimes I think my life is defined by the number of birds on the side of the highway I pass on the way to work, with eye sight shaded and music turned loud, fingers out the sunroof. How do birds get hit by cars? I mean squirrels, sure. Those morons are always sprinting across the road just as the UPS truck is pulling out, death wishes with furry grey tails they are, when they're not tight-roping across telephone lines or lurking in unsuspecting dumpsters. Possums, of course; blindly lumbering under your turning tires. But birds? Crows and pigeons and sparrows and gulls? They have the gift of flight, something we've longed for since the dawn of wishful thinking, and even they cannot avoid an instant, two-ton death?

There is a crow that's lying along that road, the name I don't know though I've driven on it nearly every day since I was eight-years-old, near-flattened to the black-top near the turn off for school. I saw it there yesterday morning. I saw it there yesterday afternoon, a little more flattened, a little more grey than black, turning into the cement on which it lay. I saw it there this morning, one wing sticking up straight, perpendicular to its death bed, the feathers fluttering in the breeze of a car zooming past at a breakneck thirty-six miles per hour, as though waving in greeting as I pass on the way south: "Have a good day." Will it be there tomorrow?

Sometimes I think my life is defined by the number of empty cathedrals I walk through, soaring ceilings causing cricks as you crane your neck upwards to make sure you don't miss a thing, because holiness hides in the highest of corners. Something about these big, empty rooms, sectioned by pews, organs, altars, demands reticence, slow steps, striding forward along the aisle way, can't stay still and stand in the back. Breathing deep, there's a certain smell that encompasses these old spaces, no matter where - Paris, Scotland, Seattle. They smell the same, like old books: a lingering presence of the thousands of feet who have paced these cement floors before, mounted these steps, gazed adoringly upwards at circles of glass and stone and story. So you breathe deep, closing your eyes, careful to let the exhaled sigh echo not too loudly.

There is a rainbow flag fluttering from the pole outside St. Mark's Cathedral, the church I'd only visited in the casualness of night before, the sanctuary coated in college students on blankets, in strangers leaning up against the same pillars, in hipsters straightening plaid as they stand for the apostles' creed. There is a earthy heaviness that accompanies the low-lighting and male harmonies of Sunday nights, the organ highs and lows that resound to the handful who'll stay after thirty minutes of can you call that church? There is still a reverence though, in the quietude of the wind of whispers, the shifting to face the front chapel. But walk in at one in the afternoon, and the light will knock you back, steal your lungs, and leave you, mouth open, staring.

"Oh my..."

The buckles on my boots jingle in the bright-white silence, bouncing off the thick-set columns holding up a dark-paneled ceiling. There's sunlight streaming through those many-paned windows. There are designs on those lanterns, blue and orange. No fear of tripping over someone's prayerful sleep. A lightness in the embrace of heavy holiness.

Sometimes I think my life is defined by reaching out. A note, an email, a letter, a smile. From you, from me. An acknowledgment that we are not living isolated on this tiny rock hurtling through space. We are not birds, hopping across busy streets, forgetting our wings in the face of certain destruction. We share things. We recognize the weight of what it means to be alive, to be breathing, to make choices, to say or not say what we think. We sink down onto that wooden pew that creaks under our weight, in the middle of the high-ceilinged sanctuary and know that someone has been their before, has felt that same awe, has breathed that same sun-lit air.

There is a restless itch behind my heart, something that says cry out to every person you pass that they are important and significant and matter, something that says be still, be silent, and be there. Something that asks is this enough.


  1. I think this is my favorite thing you've ever written. So favorite, that I'm afraid to say it in type in case it disappears. Or worse yet, you think its crap. Which it isn't.

    My heart just talked back to me.

  2. Em, I thought the exact same thing. Anna, it's just beautiful.