Sometimes you feel it’s hopeless. No, I’m not talking about that kind of despair that makes you think of ending it all, but the bleakness of life in general: the negative news that fills the air, the sickness and death of good friends and total strangers, even the shortness of a cold winter day.
Life can be exhilarating, it can be dull. It’s the dullness that makes you introspective, I think; when you’re busy and creative you don’t have time to meander down those dark roads.
The sameness of days leads to bleakness of nights. It is Christmas, but not a very merry one. I avoid television news as much as I can. I read the ads, not the front page in the newspaper. I go to holiday events designed to lift the spirit, but there is something bothering me. Christmas and then New Year’s parties are canceled because the hosts have come down with the flu. A single cow slaughtered in Washington State makes headlines, and I look carefully at every piece of beef in the meat case, buying none.
A friend discovers that he has cancer--the rapidly growing type. I see him sitting up in the hospital and he speaks calmly of his faith, that God has given him a good and long life, and he’s prepared. It makes him smile, and I guess I return that smile. He’s only a few years older. I make the comparisons.
Another person tells me about the sadness in his life, the lingering illness, and the pall that hangs over him. We’re eating lunch and he struggles to hold then move his almost useless arm, the one disabled from a stroke. He needs time to walk up steps, resting when he does. We talk about his golf game, the trouble he has playing, his rehabilitation, slow and painful. He too is just a few years older.
A young friend needs a kidney transplant. He’s not much older than our daughter. His mom tells us his brother is the donor. It’s set for early February. He’s still lead singer in his rock band, but he gets tired easily. We pray that it will go well, for both of them.
A relative, a second cousin, is getting divorced. Two young kids are involved; there are financial issues to solve. Other than saying that I am sorry I feel that hopelessness we all feel when we get this kind of news. Not the stuff that people put in the Christmas letters.
Christmas day here on the California coast is cold, and it rains. I wonder if the outside lights will short out; if a tree will fall. They don’t, it doesn’t. Sleep comes with difficulty, the morning too soon.
This morning, like most, I’m walking along the beach in Carmel. My jacket collar is turned up against the unforgiving wind, hat pulled low against my forehead. Coming toward me is a determined man with two crutches, his leg amputated, moving as fast as he can, almost running on his other leg. He says “good morning.” I agree, tell him that it is. I stop by a bench, fight back tears, and walk again.
My little friends are waiting for me at home. Nasty, obnoxious, but they are always there, watching me. I open the plastic jar, the flurry of feathers and squeaks begin. Pushing open the sliding glass door to the deck, I reach in and pull out three peanuts, placing them in my outstretched hand..
The bravest one, a puffy Scrub Jay, flies to me, but instead of just grabbing the nut, stays perched on my outstretched hand, looking at me, turning his head from side to side. I see his cerulean blue feathers outlined in a delicate dove gray; his eyes are ringed in a delicate white. There is a white delicate eyebrow painted by a master. The Jay stays there at least thirty seconds, then flies away, peanut in his beak, squawking as he leaves.