I feel it new every August, the heart-sinking dread of Mamas and Daddies facing a college freshman year. Oh, there’s a bit of excitement in the preparation, from college acceptance joy to the realization (during a push-the-boundaries summer) that good lord it is time for this child to move on.
And yet the moment comes.
The dorm room is fixed. The bed is made, and the clothes are put away. You hug hard. You take her face in your hands and say, one more time, I am so excited for you. And you get in the car, and smile and wave, and you drive away leaving your baby standing on a college campus, alone.
Ten miles later the tears begin to fall. And no matter how much you tell yourself to stop, this is silly, you are grateful she has this wonderful opportunity, you still can’t make them stop.
You put your phone in your purse. In the back seat. In the very very back so you cannot reach it to text her. And you begin to practice the one thing you know you must do for the next four years, for the next 10 years, for the rest of your life:
And so I want to say to you, now, whether you know it or not, whether you can believe it or not, this time of change is as much about you as it is about your deeply beloved child.
We send you love and strength and perseverance, those of us who have been there. And we hope this time of growth–for both of you–ultimately makes your world bigger, more colorful, and more filled with all the things that bring you joy.
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I’VE BEEN THINKING A LOT LATELY about miracles, the sort wherein you pray for something highly improbable, all the while doing your best to hang on to the belief that anythingis possible.
More than once I’ve said it out loud–to a friend, to my family, to myself. Miracles. Do. Happen.
WE WERE EXPECTING our dear friends, the Coles, for an impromptu It’s-Nearly-Summer-Let’s-Eat-On-The-Porch Saturday night when I heard such a raucous on Bickley’s pond I stepped to said porch to investigate. Clearly it was the Canada Geese, an odd collection this Spring that includes a core family with four babies and various and sundry other couples and loners that come and go in welcome–and unwelcome–fashion. There have been loud, physical fights on a regular basis, but this one seemed to be getting out of hand. A grove of trees stood between me and the fuss and so I grabbed my camera and headed to the back yard for a closer look.
Things had quieted down by the time I got to the water’s edge and it only took a glance to my right to understand why. The sweet family was there, intact, but their attention was turned toward an adjacent sandbar. On it lay another big goose, its long neck stretching against the sand, the body unmoving. Three or four other geese lolled about in the water while the still one’s wild, panicked mate screamed and flapped her wings, hitting with such force it raised the goose’s head, only to have it fall back to the earth flat, lifeless, dead. Then she took her beak and grabbed at its neck and lifted, squealing, begging. Over and over and over.
It was to no avail.
I RAN TO THE HOUSE for my phone and quickly dialed my friend (and expected dinner guest) Jay, executive director of Carolina Wildlife Center. “Get here fast,” I said, relaying the story. “The goose is probably dead, but maybe there’s something we can do.” And then I ran again for the water.
What I saw there I could hardly take in. The pond was silent, and the sandbar was empty.
I looked all around. The sweet goose family and the miscellaneous others floated quietly away from me and the crime scene. There was no body there, no evidence anything had happened at all.
Could an eagle have gotten him?
Could he have been merely stunned?
Is it even possible he is one of those out there now, carelessly floating away?
OURS IS A GOD who can do anything, this we know, and as is so often the case when something has been on my mind, it was our Sunday School lesson the very next morning. Along with the work in our study book, Dr. Bragan reminded us how important it is to think of God as “in here,” yes. But He is also the God of “out there,” a God so great and distant from our mortal understanding as to require great faith, and awe.
I CAME HOME FROM CHURCH still thinking about that goose and about the other significant things in my world requiring prayer and hope. Tim pulled the car in and something caught my eye as I looked toward the back yard, toward that pond. “I’ve got something to investigate,” I told him as I exited the garage and walked to the back yard.
There it was.
A giant feather–a giant white feather–in the grass of our upper yard, far from the water but near the side porch, just where I could see it. A reminder to me that God’s love is pure, and that miracles do happen.
Every single day.
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Today is my Mother’s 85th birthday. It has been nearly two years since she passed away, and nearly every day I still think: I’ve got to call Mom and tell her whatever it is that has happened of significance (and often insignificance) in my life. I hope you will indulge me if I repost what I wrote last year. I had forgotten, and needless to say, remembering this remarkable story of Tim’s feather brought me a sweet, warm joy.
I miss you, Mom. Happy birthday.
You’ve got to see this he said and I knew it was something big. I was already in bed, you see, and the lights were out. Still, I got up and followed my husband to our home office.
Look he said, and pointed to the top of his desk. Look at that.
A little white feather was lying there perfectly positioned in front of his computer, this husband of mine who (thankfully) smiles and hugs me with every feather event. I’m not quite sure Tim believes, as I do, that the feathers are miraculous messages from God, little reminders of love. (Reminders, I should tell you, that began appearing as we all faced such overwhelming and unexpected challenges with Mom’s declining health.) I adore my husband even more, yes I do, for humoring me in my great belief in the divinity of the feathers.
So you can see how it would be worthy of note that at this moment we stood there, both of us, looking at a nearly impossible and certainly improbable feather, one clearly meant for him. And still I didn’t understand the magnitude of the message.
We had been standing together in the bathroom 30 minutes earlier, me washing my face, him brushing his teeth.
How’d you like the music today? I asked him, referring to the Christmas program our choir had presented to the Providence Presbyterian congregation during worship that morning.
It was great he said (with genuine enthusiasm). I looked at you singing and thought: I wonder if Posey is proud of her little girl?
Hum I said. I know Mom is proud for many reasons. But I’m not sure me singing in church is one of them.
We laughed together, both knowing just what I meant. What I didn’t know was that during our choir program that morning, my husband had uncharacteristicly lobbed a great request toward the heavenlies.
Do you see her, Posey? he had asked in church. Are you there? A simple sign will do.
And that very night a little white feather appears on his desk, there where he couldn’t possibly miss it.
Sometimes I do find it hard to believe, can I just tell you that? From time to time I wonder if the appearance of these feathers in my life is nothing more than coincidence. But then something like this happens, something that feels miraculous, something I never expected. My spirit lifts and my heart opens and my soul rejoices. And I know, once again, that the feathers are placed there in my path very specifically, each one a sweet reminder that as I journey on, I am not alone. God is always there, never failing.
And so is Mom, I now know. As always, Mom is there cheering me on.
Are there feathers in your life? Can you feel it, too? I hope so. I pray so, because you are loved and cherished, my friend. Loved and cherished.
There they were just beside the steps to our side porch, two sweet feathers caught on the branches of our growing (wildly) Nandina. The splattering of other tiny ones across the driveway let me know the scene that had unfolded there earlier in the afternoon was probably not a peaceful one. Still the site of this soft, pretty duo gave me pause, and so I snapped a photo.
I hope it makes you smile. I hope it reminds you you are loved.
You are cherished, indeed.
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Just when I need one more bit of sweet, fleeting summer, along comes this email from my friend and co-worker, Kelly. We were at Litchfield whenBrooke saw this and said: We need to send this to Miss Cathy. How I love that she noticed the feathers. I I love that she thought of me!
How I love this adorable photo of my precious friend!
I’ve faced her departure so many times now you’d think it would get easier. It is a part of life, I know, this letting go, this standing by and cheering her on as her wings gain strength and lift her into flight, my sweet, sweet baby, moving deeper into adulthood and further away from me. And, of course, there is the lesson I’ve learned (over and over and over) that things carry on, that I will adjust.
And still it is as if a part of my body has been cut out, a part I need to exist.
Just yesterday Eliza left for Spain, a summer spent studying abroad. What a remarkable opportunity. How thankful I am she will have that kind of experience under her belt at the tender age of 21. How much bigger and richer and more colorful her grown-up life will be, launched with this broadened world view.
This morning Tim and I took the canoe out for a quick trip across the pond, an early morning task to be completed as part of our neighborhood’s Spring clean-up. Down by the shore I came upon a littering of Canada Goose feathers, 15 or 20 of them, feathers large and small. I looked to the heavens and smiled.
We slid the canoe into the water and started to paddle across. I looked toward the cove to my right and there they were, sprinkled like stars across the water’s surface. White feathers here, there, everywhere.
Thank you, God I whispered. Thank you for another knowing:
I wish you could have been here when it happened, this most crazy of occurrences. I was standing in the kitchen chopping dill when I turned to open the refrigerator door. In the middle of that movement I caught an impossible glimpse of a good-size feather falling just outside the big screen porch. And then some small downy feathers, feathers that attached briefly to the screen and then, blown by the wind, lifted off again to continue their slow descent to the brick patio below, the site just in front of the bluebird nest.
(How is it even possible that I was right there, and that I turned to see those feathers, right at that very moment? Ordinarily I would have found the whole thing miraculous, a message to me from God and the universe. But considering all the animal kingdom drama of late, and my nerves, “miracle” is not the thought that came to mind.)
I ran for my shoes and down the stairs toward that nest, terrified at what I would find.
I couldn’t see the babies, as the nest is tucked into the dark cavity of the decorative birdhouse. But the Mama did not come flying out (as she typically does when I come near the nest). My heart started to beat faster.
I walked into the yard.
Another and another and another. I gathered them all.
Could they be bluebird feathers? I prayed not. I thought not, as large (and not blue) as they were. But still I was crazy with worry.
I walked over to the birdhouse and put my iPhone to the opening. I snapped three or four shots with the flash on.
When I looked at the camera roll, I rejoiced!
There was Mama, safe and sound. Hooray!
Surely that means the babies are fine. Right?
And what about all those feathers?
I walked around the yard looking for clues. I noticed two morning doves sitting uncharacteristically on the pitched roof of our house. I wonder if they have a nest up there, and if, perhaps, the hawk paid it a visit. It makes me very sad.
Nevertheless. This is Day 2 for our newborn bluebird chicks, and all in all,
It was an unexpected gift to begin with, this pretty little Christmas package handed to me by my sweet sister/friend, Cindy.
Shall I? I asked, trying my best to sneak a peak down into the bag.
She smiled rather slyly. Yes she said. Open it now, so I can watch you.
Out from the bag came a book so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. Right there on the cover, a magnificent feather.
Of course I knew you had to have it she said as I turned the book over in my hands, my heart filled with wonder.
What are feathers? How did they evolve? What do they mean to us?
These are the questions the book jacket posed, questions answered by biologist and author Thor Hanson.
I will read every word I said, knowing this book held much more for me than mere science. I believe feathers are messages from God, you see, messages of comfort that began appearing in my life three years ago, when we faced such challenges with my Mother. Her health diminishing, our despair growing, I would say to God: I am overwhelmed. I don’t know how to do this. And feathers would appear, tiny feathers that fell from nowhere, giant feathers (when my faith required a more grand gesture), perfect feathers, and feathers worn and tattered, appearing here and there and everywhere—little signs of love and reassurance left just for me, I believed, in the most unexpected places.
It happened time after time after time. So often, in fact, I started to chronicle them in photographs and on this blog. I came to whole-heartedly believe the scripture that found its way to me in ways just as surprising as the feathers:
Psalm 91:4 He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
On February 2, 2013, my Mother died without ever knowing the significance of feathers in my life. In planning her funeral we were awestruck to discover she had chosen On Wings of Eagles as the service music. It is a song, the hymn notes tell you, based on Psalm 91:4—the feather scripture. What’s more, she had documented that choice eight years earlier.
When I sat down to write a note to tell Cindy just how much her thoughtful gift of Feathers meant to me, I picked up the book and flipped through the opening pages. I nearly lost my breath when I happened upon the author’s dedication.
It was remarkable. Transformative. And ridiculously fun.
It’s also a story that began weeks ago, when my dear friend, Vickie (one of the Wise Women) came from Virginia for a long overdue weekend visit. Vick and I talked and talked and talked, we drank good wine, we hiked Saluda Shoals and strolled up and down Main Street at Columbia’s Soda City Market. Then late on Saturday afternoon, as the sun moved across the sky just far enough to allow “reasonable” temperatures on my gigantic screen porch, I looked toward my friend and timidly asked:
What would you think about pulling out the easels and doing a little late afternoon painting?
That quiet little question ignited something fierce, I’m not kidding about that. By the time our palettes were laid and the canvases prepped, we painted like Mad Women into the night and all the next day—right up until the very moment Vickie had to chase the car out of the driveway to jump in the passenger seat (wet painting in hand) for the trip back to Richmond.
When the opportunity to attend a weekend Mary Gilkerson painting workshop (thank you, City Art!) presented itself, you won’t be surprised to learn I was on the phone in seconds, recruiting my friend Vickie. It took a bit of courage for each of us to register for the class; Vickie is brand spanking new to oil painting and I, still a novice, had never wielded a Palette-Knife-As-Brush before. Still, we bravely reserved our places, then marched boldly into that most magnificent of spaces‚ City Art’s main gallery, for class. (Do you know what it is like to approach a blank canvas inthere?)
It took about 30 seconds for Mary to make us all feel capable, so unassuming is her manner and her teaching style. I positioned myself and my overloaded bag of supplies right between Vickie and my dear Columbia friend, Pam, an interior designer and already trained painter whom I had insisted take the class with us. Along with the other dozen brave souls in the room, we began to paint.
I learned so much from Mary Gilkerson.
Develop a ritual. Look for the shapes. Thumbnails (X 3). Mix color, all of it, first.
Remember to breathe.
Cathy, are you breathing?
Then she got onto telling stories, our teacher did, regaling us with tale after tale of the most delicious characters*, all the while effortlessly creating the most phenomenal Mary Gilkerson Painting-A-Day**, right before our very eyes.
(I can’t possibly describe for you what it was like to stand there in that group gathered around her, each student mesmerized, the teacher chatting nonchelently about this and that while pure magic occurred at the end of her palette knife, there on a common 6 x 6 gesso board. Pure magic.)
We watched, we listened, we made copious what was that color combination? notes. By the end of the first day—six hours and 15 rolls of paper towels later—I think I can speak for all of us when I say we felt victorious, students bolstered by our ability to at least cover a panel with paint.
Stepping out into the late afternoon sunshine I looked down to find this little gem on the mat at City Art’s front door.
Well of course was all I could say.
We drove into town again Sunday morning, this time for the final day of class. A strange thing had happened over the course of the night. Rather than returning to the gallery emblazoned and ready, that familiar I’m just a hack and the world is going to discover it feeling had returned, an insecure undercurrent that does its dead level best to bring down any soul crazy enough to face off with a canvas.
But you know what awaited us right there at the door the City Art?
It’s going to be a great day we said to each other as we opened the big City Art door and made our way inside. And then we laughed, Vickie and I, knowing it was true, knowing in our hearts this was a grace-filled moment, painted with a magic all its own.
*I might have made a note or two in my Cathy’s Going To Write A Novel Someday I Swear It notebook.