“Never ever confuse the end of an era in your life as the completion of your destiny.”
-Brian Houston, Pastor, Hillsong Church, Australia
Symbols. I don’t really have any.
Call me “pragmatic” “a realist” or “unimaginative,” but I prefer a thing to be an actual “thing” or I am just not that interested. I have a pretty black or white stance on this matter. At least I did, until a vibrant pop of red entered into my life last year and changed everything.
Fatigue, insomnia, muscle pain and weakness began to take over my body. My brain and spinal cord burned unceasingly for months, as if I was being torched from within. I spent more hours in the day crying in agony, than not. I was told I had an “unfortunate” case of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity Syndrome. “It won’t kill ya,” the doctor said, and advised me to begin homeopathy. Sadly, I had grown much too weak to leave the house, now. In fact, I had become bedridden. Sounds, from the low hum of a television, to banging pots and pans and even the softest of voices became amplified 10-fold in my head, beating against my ear drums, as if someone where screaming at me. I frequently retreated to my quiet, dark bedroom to be alone. Days became weeks, weeks became months and suddenly I was a shell of my former self trapped in the only room I could find some refuge. Actually, doctor, I WAS dying slowly and agonizingly.
On a rare day, I emerged from my dark room weary and blurry-eyed. Despite having no appetite I told myself, “You must eat. You can do it slowly, but you must get some food into your system.” I managed to muster the strength to crack two eggs into a frying pan, stand the three minutes required to cook them and walk to our office, whereby I promptly collapsed into a chair. Tears streamed down my cheeks, as I was already well-versed in the misery that each day brought. Today would be no different.
Suddenly, a staccato tweet.
A soft chirp, unlike any I had ever heard, became faintly audible through the window. Curious, I opened the blinds. As my eyes adjusted to the unusual encounter with the sun, I saw the most beautiful shade of red I had ever seen in nature. Not more than 5 feet from me sat a male cardinal perched in all his brilliant glory on the tree tops below my window. Twenty feet to my right, stood his mate on a wood post fence. Although smaller in size and different in color than her male counter part, she was no less spectacular. With her light green feathers, red mohawk and neon orange beak, her uniqueness glowed in the morning sun.
I watched their interactions with wonder and excitement. She would speak to him. He would speak back. In an awestruck moment, a beautiful duet was forming before my very eyes.
Then, they were gone.
I sat back in my chair with my plate of now cold eggs and deeply inhaled. Something felt different inside me, at least for the moment. The tears had stopped, my breathing had slowed and HOPE, hope had appeared in my heart. Two gorgeous cardinals, birds the size of the palm of my hand, reminded me that there was still a world outside my walls to experience and that there was still life inside my very weak body.
Through the window, I began to have daily encounters with these two precious cardinals for nearly a year. They would spend hours in the trees surrounding my house and I could recognize their calls to one another. On a day when my brain and spinal cord were burning less, I could walk down the front steps with the aid of my husband and we would watch this interaction in person. No matter how many times I saw it, I continued to remain captivated by them and experience a sense of hopefulness deep in my soul. As the days began to grow shorter and colder, I worried that I might not see them again. During one of our back office sitings, my husband had his camera ready and was able to capture the male for me in the hopes of keeping my spirits lifted through the long Midwestern winter.
Nearly a year has gone by since I have last seen my cardinals. It seems as though they may have taken up residence in a nearby neighbor’s tree. I was told they lost their babies in one of spring’s torrential storms. From time to time however, I can still hear them making beautiful music together in the trees that surround my house. Although I haven’t been able to catch a glimpse of them, just knowing they are there brings a constant reminder to me that there is always hope, beauty and life even in the midst of the darkest times. A dear Lyme friend reminded me of that as well when I unexpectedly received this sweet gift of encouragement from her.
The last few days, I have been taking a much needed mental vacation from my illness, from obsessing over it, researching it, chatting about it and just non-stop thinking about it. My recently developed philosophy has been to celebrate small victories and re-learn to enjoy my life again. The following images of my birthday and short film following an afternoon with a friend, are some of the most fun days I have had in a very long time. I may still be ill, and as recent test indicate, quite ill, but I am determined to challenge the notion within myself that I simply can not do or can not enjoy anything anymore.
Below are some photos my husband took during my birthday celebration with just the two of us two days ago.
Below is a Thank You short film for my friend Vanessa.