A couple of weeks ago, a wood thrush banged into one of our windows. Other birds have done the same and recovered, like last summer’s Scarlet Tanager and more recently, this yellow-bellied sapsucker. Keith and I had not seen wood thrushes here at Vanaprastha, though I’m sure we’ve heard them, given the chirp the bird emitted as Keith gently picked it up and checked it for damage. The wings seemed fine, and its waggling tail feathers. But its feet were limp and unresponsive. The bird did not grasp Keith’s fingers like the other birds had.
Stay in the story, I said to myself. Don’t turn away. I prayed for its full recovery.
After attending HippoCamp in Lancaster, Pennsylvania last August, I began using Twitter to network with other writers. Late last month, my Twitter feed lit up with prayer requests for Rachel Held Evans, a popular Christian writer. Evans was in a medically-induced coma for seizures she’d experienced after taking medication for an infection.
Unfamiliar with her writing except through reviews, I decided to visit her website. In her last blog posted on Ash Wednesday, she wrote: “Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or your doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called ‘none,’ you know this truth deep in your bones: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.’ Death is a part of life. My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.”
Stay in the story, I said to myself. Don’t turn away. I prayed for her full recovery.
Last Saturday, I attended our church’s annual Women’s Retreat. This year’s topic was Rest, something many of us have a very hard time doing in our busy lives. Our life-stage minister spoke about God’s four P’s plus one: Plan, Practice, Purpose, Provision, and Perspective.
Scripture gives us ideas about God’s plan and practice, she said. It is for us to discern our purpose, and God will give us provision. This is the perspective we need to cultivate.
I thought to myself, the four P’s are true for living and dying. When I pray for full recovery, I’m not asking God to change His plan—though I often offer suggestions. What I’m really asking is for God to change me, to help me practice, celebrating life and grieving with others.
After Retreat, I checked Twitter and discovered tweets and retweets filled with grief and gratitude for Rachel Held Evans’ life. She had died that morning at the age of 37. Evans is survived by her husband and two children, ages 3 and 1.
It’s easier to face death virtually, I thought while sitting at my desk, and easier still when that person is unknown. Then I remembered the wood thrush, which also had not recovered. When Keith ended its suffering, I did not turn away, though I was grateful not to be the one called to do the deed. That purpose and provision belonged to Keith; mine was to write about it.
God’s plan is mysterious. But practicing gives me a realistic perspective on life. We are dust and to dust we will return.