Don’t get me wrong: I’m not a religious guy and haven’t ever had any spiritual inclinations, in spite of having been raised in a very cloistered, conservative religious community. Not that I’m discounting other’s experience. We all live by narratives that help us make sense of our existence. Historically, those narratives have been religious in nature – the idea of a providential deity that created and sustains us. That’s not my narrative, although I’m not sure what is. I consider myself a rationalist but find scientific materialism to be lacking at its core. It can give us insight into how things are, but not why they are. That’s a question for another discipline. The closest I’ve come to a narrative that makes sense is the questioning of philosophy. It doesn’t give us answers, but gives us the appropriate questions to ask.
That being said, there’s something about birds that I’ve experienced time and time again, some uncanny confluence that happens in what some would consider spiritually charged times.
A small carving of a bird was recently discovered in a cave in Holhe Fels, Germany. Carbon dating indicates it to be one of the earliest works of art known to us, carved over 30,000 years ago. Something moved a stone-age human to shape a piece of ivory into a new form, that of a bird, and with that opened up the history of human creativity, the transformation of outer experience into the inner vision of one human. Why a bird? Maybe because birds represent a link between earth and heaven, human consciousness and the mysteries of the unconscious, a symbol of soul and matter, all those things that have mystified humans since the evolution of consciousness.
Even for us secular humans, birds retain something uncanny, something that hints at things we can only suspect. Birds have a funny way of appearing in my life, specifically at times of death. My uncle, dying of cancer, had a bird fly into his room and land on his shoulder. Remarkably calm, the bird stayed for a minute of two and then flew out the window and off. My uncle died that day. The morning my father died my mother called me with the news. Walking outside to smoke a cigarette and gather my thoughts, a large crow flew down at my feet – no more that three or four feet away – and just stared at me as if to get my attention. Once done, he flew off to a nearby tree and sat in it and watched me until I went back inside.
I had my last visit with my oncologist Tuesday. He had done some research into the potential for immunology treatment. Unfortunately, all tests indicate it won’t be of any use. His advice: go home and let nature take its course. 3 to 6 months should do it. What does one do with 3 to 6 months? Any ideas?
More than one person, on learning of my impended death, has asked that I send them a sign if I’m around. I’ve told all of them to watch for a bird that comes to visit. That will be “me.” I’m not sure I believe it myself, but what can it hurt?