In the next week and a half we will go to as many as three funerals, one of which is for a person I have thought of as a friend and mentor and who succumbed quietly to cancer, surrounded by family. The two others are for people who died unexpectedly, one due to accident and one due to unknown and fatal health challenges. There's not much to be said at these times, but only a sitting with sadness. Spring offers some solace: the beginnings of tulips pushing through the earth, the buds on the trees. But there are times we are not ready to see spring. There are times it seems winter lingers long.
In the wake of the Connecticut tragedy of December something I'd read moved slowly into my mind, saturating the horror and disbelief with a kind of peace. I came across my printed copy the other day, and it seems to me that it has bearing for this month, too.
It is a long passage from Loren Eiseley's essay The Judgment of Birdsto which I was first introduced by Scott Russell Sanders while at awriting workshop in the Wrangells in 2009, read several times in the interim and most recently found in Terry Tempest Williams's essay A Disturbance of Birds in Ecotone.
I want to include it here, and I will type it out to feel the words under my fingers. I hope you will find it as compelling as I do.
"The sun was warm there, and the murmurs of forest life blurred softly away into my sleep. When I awoke, dimly aware of some commotion and outcry in the clearing, the light was slanting down through the pines in such a way that the glade was lit like some vast cathedral. I could see the dust motes of wood pollen in the long shaft of light, and there on the extended branch sat an enormous raven with a red and squirming nestling in his beak.
The sound that awoke me was the outraged cries of the nestling's parents, who flew helplessly in circles about the clearing. The sleek black monster was indifferent to them. He gulped, whetted his beak on the dead branch a moment and sat still. Up to that point the little tragedy had followed the usual pattern. But suddenly, out of all that area of woodland, a soft sund of complaint began to rise. Into the glade fluttered small birds of half a dozen varieties drawn by the anguished outcries of the tiny parents.
No one dared attack the raven. But they cried there in some instinctive common misery, the bereaved and the unbereaved. The glade filled with their soft rustling and their cries. They fluttered as though to point their wings at the murderer. There was a dim intangible ethic he had violated, that they knew. He was a bird of death.
And he, the murderer, the black bird at the heart of life, sat on there, glistening in the common light, formidable, unmoving, unperturbed, untouchable.
The sighing died. It was then I saw the judgement. It was the judgement of life against death. I will never see it again so forcibly presented. I will never hear it again in notes so tragically prolonged. For in the midst of protest, they forgot the violence. There, in that clearing, the crystal note of a song sparrow lifted hesitantly in the hush. And finally, after painful fluttering, another took the song, and then another, the song passing form one bird to another, doubtfully at first, as though some evil thing were being slowly forgotten. Till suddenly they took heart and sang from many throats joyously together as birds are known to sing. They sang because life is sweet and sunlight beautiful They sang under the brooding shadow of the raven. In simple truth they had forgotten the raven, for they were singers of life, not of death."
To every thing there is a season. There is a time for outraged cries, a time for the sound of complaint, for rustling and cries. And then one day, there is a time to hear the first wavering note, and eventually, to add our songs. We move through valleys, always through. There is always a time, one day, even when it is long in coming, for song.
PS: turns out there is a Loren Eiseley society, and even a Facebook page, in case you become as interested as I am.
*this post first appeared on www.aborderlife.com