In June, I noticed a mourning dove hopping around on my fire escape with a branch. Then, a couple days later, there was a nest. A couple days later, the dove had laid two eggs. Immediately, I felt protective of the dove, who sometimes looked in the window. The last time I'd felt glued to another being's side was when my grandmother was dying last November. As I had promised not to leave her, I intuitively promised the same to the dove. No question.
Mourning doves, I later learned, are said to symbolize the soul’s passing over to the celestial realm. The bird felt like a clear sign from my grandmother: it's time to fly.
At first, it was hard to remember that they are wild animals. When it rained for three days straight, I considered fastening an umbrella to the railing, or dropping a tarp outside of my upstairs neighbor’s window. I researched ways I could help, yet stopped short of buying organic yarn to contribute to the nest-making. During a dry spell, I put out water in a dish.
When the eggs hatched, I celebrated. I also noticed an uptick in my own sense of purpose. This has been one of the most creative and industrious summers in recent memory. Projects that were once just seedlings are finding physical form (including this new series about generosity and philanthropy). Taking my artistic bent seriously--and not trying to live in a non-artist's world, where people generally don't understand if you cancel plans to honor the muse--has had a brilliant, unexpected effect: being responsible to my creative side helps me lighten up about everything else.
When the birds finally flew away, after forming a conga line on the railing, I was thrilled, for all of us. Beautiful robins started showing up in pairs. The doves came back for daily visits. I spied a couple white-tailed hawks in Central Park. My sister joked that an ostrich was going to climb up my fire escape. Another friend cracked that the birds were perched outside my window because they instinctively knew I was one of the rare people in the neighborhood (which is known for its bar culture) who didn’t abuse substances.
Just as I was about to install my A/C (which goes right where the nest sits) the mama dove reappeared, with a branch in her beak, ready to rebuild her nest. Then more birds showed up—at one point, I looked out and saw the dove in her nest, as a robin fed a grape to a spotted finch. It was hilarious. In general, I have been feeling a lot like this.
On Friday, I looked out to see the dove laying two new eggs. A few minutes later, the phone rang, and my friend Linda told me that our friend Marietta had passed away that morning. (She was older, and it was expected.) Before I could even process this news, I looked out to see a gorgeous European starling, with black feathers, a pink iridescent sheen and white spots on the tail, sitting on the fire escape. Not only was she glorious, but the timing was divinely scripted, as if to remind me of what really mattered: Marietta was dynamite, pure and simple.
I met Marietta in 2008 when I was a volunteer writing teacher for retired women at a church in Brooklyn. We became fast friends. Once, I walked into class and started crying. I was in the middle of a break-up and mortified that I couldn’t keep it together. June, one of the other women, said, “It’s OK honey. We’ve all been there.” (And I knew she had: her favorite story was about divorcing her husband on April Fool’s Day.) Ever since, Marietta liked to bring that day up—often. She would say, “Oh, Sue, remember that day you just sat down and started crying? We didn’t want you to be upset, but it was just so funny!” (And it was. It really was.) Every time I started to cry about her passing, I would think of this comment, and start laughing. Exactly the way she’d want it.
The night after her memorial, I was visiting with my friend in Brooklyn, telling her all about the birds. Her husband came home and mentioned that he had recently thought of me, when he ran an errand in the Diamond District. Then, he handed me the card of a man he had met there. The man lived in Marietta, Georgia, and the logo on the front was two birds bound by one heart. This—the birds, the heart, Marietta—struck me as synchronistic, given that Marietta has been on my mind. (But then again, so have acausal occurrences; I’m reading this excellent book.)
I like synchronicity for the “wow” factor—many times, I have been amazed (and continue to be amazed) by uncanny coincidences. But it’s also easy to treat them superficially. So someone crosses your mind, and then they call. So you ask for a sign and then you stumble into a conversation that seems to be just the universal wink you were looking for, in no uncertain terms. When enough of them pile up, you might even feel like you’re in the middle of your own personal snow globe. But what is the point of it all, really?
In my mind, synchronicity and the birds’ presence signify the same thing, more or less: our world is essentially a natural one, turning, unfolding, evolving as it will. Something larger is at work, and it’s fine—preferable, even—to trust, simply trust. Kurt Vonnegut, a lifelong atheist, once said, in response to the question of God’s existence: “We have all this”—meaning the natural world—“how is that not enough?”