I am back with my mother in Tulsa, here for a month, my vacation time in this time of COVID-19, continuing with my sister to help my mom recover after a stroke that affected her speech and language. Last night, I surprised my mom with two comfortable new outdoor chairs, which we promptly set up in the driveway so that we could enjoy the cooling evening breeze, mosquito-free, and reminisce about the thousands of times my late father would do the very same thing, handing out sticks of Wrigley’s Spearmint to the neighborhood kids, who called him “The Green Gum Grandpa.” This sitting in the driveway on outdoor furniture is a treasured Eastside Tulsa tradition, our Okie version of sitting on your stoop in Brooklyn.
Although my mom often struggles right now for the most commonplace of words in answer to questions, reminiscences flow freely from her, with only slight pauses betraying the recovery she is in the midst of—normally, my mother is a treasure trove of remembrances, and we laughed as we noted that we were only missing a pint bottle of something wrapped in a paper bag and perhaps the company of a semi-feral neighborhood cat to truly be imitating my dad.
As darkness fell, long after nine p.m., my mom and I fell silent, listening to and marveling at the variety of birds that whirled overhead or flashed into my mother’s carefully curated but humble garden shrubs, especially cardinals. Cardinals were my dad’s favorite bird, and our family holds tightly to the legend that when a cardinal visits you, it’s a sign of someone you love who has passed away coming to visit you.
“Hello, Short,” we breathed, enchanted by our quick-winged visitor. The yearning call of that cardinal, searching for his mate, reminded me of the lyric by the great Karla Bonoff, voiced achingly by Linda Ronstadt, one of my dad’s favorite singers:
I’ve made up my mind I would leave today
But you’re keeping me going I know it’s insane
‘Cause I’ll love you and lose again
Well the heart calls
And the mind obeys
Oh it knows better than me…
For contrary to Marc Antony’s claim in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, it has been our experience that the bad things men do die with them or loosen their grip upon our hearts, and that the good they did and the gentleness and reverence they produced even within a maelstrom of a life of regret echoes on the edges of our perception. That hoped-for grace tarries behind patchwork of twisted nandina branches in crimson flashes.
In questioning whistles and trills with a bright eye, Dad’s avian shade peered at us, asking for a sign of our tendency toward forgiveness, hopeful we might remember our own yearning for grace, of the need for our stories’ denouement to end upon a major chord despite the long fugue of disappointment that marks so many a life. This is the stuff of forgiveness, forgiveness that has counted the cost and benefit and erred on the side of grace, and we do not take it lightly. We cannot withhold the ebb and flow of compassion in our lives if we also remember the times it has welled up unbidden for us, as well.
It is in this moment of reckoning and releasing that the words of the Rev. John Williamson and the Holy Spirit, in one of the most beloved prayers in the Night Prayer service from A New Zealand Prayer Book He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa:
it is night.
The night is for stillness.
Let us be still in the presence of God.
It is night after a long day.
What has been done has been done;
what has not been done has not been done;
let it be.
The night is dark.
Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives
rest in you.
The night is quiet.
Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,
all dear to us,
and all who have no peace.
The night heralds the dawn.
Let us look expectantly to a new day,
In your name we pray.
Let the quietness of God’s peace enfold us, and all dear to us, and let that be enough. Let love be enough, and not fade away.
The Rev. Leslie Scoopmire is a writer, musician, and a priest in the Diocese of Missouri. She is priest-in-charge of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Ellisville, MO. She posts daily prayers at her blog Abiding In Hope, and collects spiritual writings and images at Poems, Psalms, and Prayers.