Story and photos by Kathy Morrison
Sometime during the last week of March, a cheeky male cardinal began waking me each morning, banging himself into the window, in attack mode, ready to defend his mate against the fierce rival he saw in the reflective glass. We have had cardinals come occasionally in the past, but this persistent fellow has appeared, each and every day, without fail, for a month and a half. Most days he returns in the afternoon to the front windows and taps or attaches to the screen and looks briefly inside until he flies off in his quest to protect the nest. As he makes his daily rounds, he has had me thinking a lot about a quote and a story and a daily habit, I try to maintain.
Long ago, I read the words of Saint Benedict, who, advised his 6th century monks to, “keep death daily before your eyes.” I thought it seemed a rather morbid thought but at the time, I did not understand his meaning. Not too many years later, I came across a Zen story about a “little bird” that we each have on our shoulder. The bird daily whispers into one’s ear, “This could be the day,” - your last day – the day of your death. Different spiritual Paths - same lesson. Suddenly, the words of St. Benedict made sense and I realized his meaning. In being conscious of one’s own mortality, we can learn to live each day differently than if we think our days are endless. In reminding myself each morning that “this could be it”, I can take a moment to decide how that “last day” might look and how I might better live it out: less prone to anger and more apt to be kind, less worried about the future and more aware of the present, less stressed and more at ease, less in need of “stuff” and more in need of love and connectedness with the world around me. Living without fear of what is to come, but instead, with gratitude for what is. Contemplating death doesn’t eradicate all fear of death, but it can transform the way one chooses to live.
The cardinal is, in some mythologies, is a representation of a loved one who has passed, returning to visit. I have many loved ones who have left this world, who I might like to think my feisty, winged friend may be. But just being the marvelous creation of Nature that he is, is enough. His timing couldn’t be better, appearing during a worldwide pandemic marked by unexpected and premature death. How apropos that this little scarlet visitor would come to my window each day, as if to say, “Remember St Benedict! Don’t forget the message of the Zen story.”
I look forward to seeing him on his daily rounds and am grateful for his reminder to focus my attention on the gifts of this day and to live it to its fullest, with my heart in the right place, for it could be my last.
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