Cheryl's Blog

Life lessons from a sparrow

Every night, just before the sun dips below the horizon, a tiny sparrow swoops into our veranda, hops along the ceiling ledge, and tucks itself face first into the bottom of the “V” shaped trim lining an archway. It showed up just before our friend Ileen passed away and it’s been here nearly every night since.

I’ve been comforted by this little visitor and grateful for the way nature provides a sense of stability during turbulent times. Each night, as I walked back and forth to and from the kitchen I’d sneak a peek to be sure the sparrow was still there. Over time, a tender part of me grew to rely on its presence and I worried it might leave. In some way, the resting bird held a promise that life would settle down and return to normal soon.

One night, after the sun said its goodbye, I crept to the veranda window, peered through the curtain, and found the bottom of the “V” empty. I felt a pang of panic but quickly told myself the bird was probably still feeding, flying about the neighborhood, or doing whatever birds do at the end of the day. But when I checked back later, I didn’t find our little visitor in its room.

I’ve grown to have such compassion for how we attach ourselves to things in the outer world in search of comfort and peace. Especially in hard times. We want that person to call, the job to come through, or the opportunity that we’re sure will make everything okay. But there comes a point in life, if we’re lucky, when we realize the futility of this practice. The work of getting people and circumstances to match our needs is a 24/7 job. And it’s not reliable. More often than not, life doesn’t go according to our plans and when it does, the contentment doesn’t last.

That night, when the sparrow didn’t return, I felt myself falter and it didn’t take long to see that I had tethered my peace to a bird. When I realized what I’d done, I placed my hand on my heart and told myself I’d be okay, that I didn’t need a bird to stay, or the sun to be shining, or even our friend to return from the afterlife. I needed rest, a good cry, a bit of self-soothing, and most of all presence. I needed to be where I was with as much compassion and love as I could muster. So, I sat down, closed my eyes, and let the moment take me. As I felt my heart break, I also felt immense love pour in, the kind of love that’s available to us all when we arrive home to ourselves.

Grief can be so exquisitely beautiful in the way that it returns us to love, to what’s real, and to a state of gratitude for those we’ve loved and the simple blessings of life. When we embrace loss and take on the journey with the intention of mastery, we gain something deeply important: The spiritual confidence that we can handle anything.