Death first smacked me one day as I was walking to school. I was a Shirley Temple-type kid with blond banana curls and wide, innocent eyes. Back in the olden days, neighborhood children walked to school with not a responsible adult in sight. In fall, I shuffled through dried leaves piled up on sidewalks, picking up horse chestnuts along the way. One spring day, I saw my first baby robin lying dead on the sidewalk. Teachers may have noticed that I looked somber that day. None could have guessed what images danced in my head. Poor baby robin! His lifeless body lay flat on the cement, surrounded by broken pieces of pale blue eggshells. He never had a chance to breathe fresh air or to fly or to eat a worm. I honored that dead chick. I gently picked up bits of eggshells and put them in my pocket.
Many years later, robins taught me another lesson. Propped up by bed pillows, I gazed down at my infant daughter. In the darkness before dawn, I nursed this little one and longed to sleep; strange how loneliness creeps in at these moments. A bird song broke the silence. This solitary robin sensed the sun edging upward and announced the arrival of a new day. Gratitude touched my heart. Miracles awaited me. I watched my little one discover her dimpled hands. Perhaps today she would smile at me for the first time.
Now I am a grandmother and still wake up before dawn. It is dark, but I listen and wait for the first song from our friendly robin. That sound twangs my heart and acts like a time machine — zipping me back to old Cape Cod, to our starter home with weathered shingles and picket fence. In my mind’s eye, I picture little children playing in the sandbox and our collie pup romping in the backyard. Those children have grown, moved away, and have lives of their own.
Life seems to be all about change, but I believe some things never change. I believe that nature draws us toward beauty and the transcendent nature of life. I believe that God’s love is immutable, like the chirp of a robin at dawn.