I am someone with conflicting feelings about the afterlife.
On one hand, it makes sense to me that man would conceive of heaven so as to cope with death.
On the other hand, there have been times in my life when messengers have appeared to me as ingenuously divine.
My grandmother was both a pilot and an avid birdwatcher. Years before her death, I asked her to tell me which bird she loved most. She said her favorite was a red cardinal on a snowy pine tree.
She passed away as October drew to a close. The snow had yet to fall when the cardinals appeared. They made a home in the tree outside our breakfast nook.
Shortly after her passing, I would wake up in the early mornings and seat myself in the nook to journal, facing the tree in which the cardinals lived.
Every now and then, I would look up from the page and find a cardinal on the branch before me. The hairs on my arms would rise.
Perhaps my grandmother had whispered a cardinal my way. But from where had she sent them? Was it delusion? Or was it divine? I don’t portend to know.
Instead, I found a peaceful middling in not knowing. Intuitively I sensed that something greater was at work, and that her spirit remained.
Not just in the cardinal, but in the current that flows through all life, past and present. Divine or not, there was something undeniably mystical about this cardinal. I simply had no explanation.
Eleven months later, I brought home my budgie, Pushkin. It was September 3rd. I loved him from that day on.
On September 18th by the beach in Los Angeles, I was violently attacked by someone who had been following me. I was cornered, strangled, and nearly run over. As I struggled to escape, there was one mission on my mind: to get home, grab Pushkin, and leave town.
Thanks to the bravery of a stranger who physically tackled the man assaulting me, I was able to get away. Two days later, Pushkin and I left with a fraction of my belongings. We flew across the country to safety.
Upon reaching our destination, I freed him from his travel carrier, then I crumbled to the floor in tears. Pushkin flew to me from the windowsill, and with the most compassionate look in his eyes, he nuzzled against me until I stopped crying.
We became inseparable. He showered with me in the mornings, rode my shoulder to the coffee pot, and perched on my computer as I worked. I took him to the pizza parlor and the hiking trail. His cage sat beside my bed and I spoke to him as I fell asleep.
My mother called him my therapy bird, but he was more than my healer. He was the feathered angel on my shoulder, a kind of soulmate who only comes around once in a lifetime.
I believed that ten or even fifteen years down the road we would look back at this time and smile. We would have soldiered our way through adversity together. We would have come out the other side stronger. We were pieces of one another.
On November 24, 2020, Pushkin passed away. It was sudden and unexpected. The look in his eyes before he departed breaks my heart to this day.
Friends tried to console me by suggesting that Pushkin was an angel sent to help me through this difficult time in my life. If that were the case, why did he leave before I was healed? I was beside myself with grief.
I wasn’t ready for him to go.
The morning after he flew from this earth, I threw myself into my work to avoid thinking. I was still typing two days later, when suddenly I heard my mother yelling for help. I flung my bedroom door open to see what was wrong.
To my utter surprise, a finch whisked right past my head. I shut the door behind me and smiled for the first time in days, marveling at the wild bird soaring around my room.
Earlier that morning I had prayed that someone or something would send me a bird. To my delight, he was sent right through the front door.
Get him out! My mother frantically yelled. I locked the door to my room. Nobody was going to stand between me and the messenger.
The finch tried to land on flowers given to me in the wake of Pushkin’s death. Unstable, he resorted to the top of my desk instead.
A dropping fell onto my keyboard, but I didn’t mind at all. In fact, I was tickled. For Pushkin, who could do no wrong, would have done the same.
Outside my room, my mother and father scolded me to kick the bird out of the house or let them in to “take care of it.” I refused. As far as I was concerned, this finch could take his sweet time. He could come and go as he pleased.
I opened my windows to give him the opportunity. When he didn’t budge, I stood on my chair to get a better look. A purple finch…or a house finch? Must be a house.
He quickly darted away, and I was reminded of those first weeks after bringing Pushkin home, how he too was a wild bird. A wild bird I tamed by earning his trust.
Some time had passed- I’m not sure how much- when a bobby pin wrestled the door open and my father burst inside. Our methods in dealing with the finch couldn’t have been any different.
Whereas I sat back to let the finch make his own decisions, my father swatted and charged at the bird, causing him to fly about the room.
After an hour of chaos, the finch came to rest on the window sill. Before him stretched the tree of the cardinals into the night sky. Behind him- my room, and the place where I spent so many cherished hours with Pushkin.
As the finch prepared to launch into the darkness, my joy returned to grief. Tears streamed down my face, and silently I said goodbye to Pushkin once again.
I closed my eyes in despair just as the finch took off. When I opened them, I heard wings. The finch had chosen not to leave. He was still here, flying about my room. The hairs rose on my arms and a divine message fluttered across my mind.
I wasn’t ready to go either.