All winter long I gazed sorrowfully at

the wooden hummingbird that hung from the window ledge.

The left wing was missing!

Hand-carved souvenir from Cuba. A hummingbird with one wing.

Hand-carved souvenir from Cuba. A hummingbird with one wing.

Often, looking at the sad sight, I recalled the famous Langston Hughes poem, “Dreams:”

Hold fast to dreams

For if dreams die

Life is a broken-winged bird

That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams

For when dreams go

Life is a barren field

Frozen with snow.

The Cuban hummingbird was not just any old bird!

Five years ago, in the Sierra Maestra Mountains,  I had received a visitation from a very rare species,

affectionately nicknamed “Zunzuncito” by the Cuban people.

To commemorate that event, I brought back two hand-carved wooden

hummingbirds from a street vendor. One for my friend Vi and one for me.

The broken-winged bird hung from a slender string attached to a nail above the window ledge.

As I scoured the floor under the window,

I tried to think logically.

How could the little brown wing have disappeared?

Had someone swept it up in a passion of fastidiousness,

not recognizing how precious it was?

I looked everywhere: under the rug, lamp, and flower pots.

Had it gotten swept up with pine needles under the Christmas tree?

Did a grandchild carry it off, not knowing what it was?

This morning, however, after my journal/Lenten reading/prayer time,

I looked at the bird one more time.

If I were a falling wing, where might I land?

All of a sudden, I felt a surge of intuitive knowledge:

“Look in the jungle, under the dead leaves.”

"The jungle."

“The jungle.”

Sure enough, there in the center flower pot,

under a bed of brown leaves,

was my little “Zunzuncito” wing.

The whole hummingbird!

The whole hummingbird!

I joyfully plucked the wing from under the leaves,

noticing that the artisan who made it had carved feather grooves into its sides.

I placed it carefully back into the special hole on the side of the bird,

making a note that both wings need a tiny dollop of glue to avoid another wing-oscopy.

*****

Today, on Friday the 13th of March, in the midst of a global health crisis,

with a prayer list longer than usual,

and a fresh sense of the fragility of life,

I am holding fast to dreams, thankful to Langston Hughes.

Here is a humble haiku to celebrate:

A bird with one wing

cannot fly, nor will it sing,

until dreams return.

What sign(s) of hope are you seeing in this time of crisis? Let’s gather our dreams together and send them flying to health care workers, politicians of both parties, mayors, governors, those struggling to breathe, and those struggling with fear.

Shirley Showalter

23 Comments

  1. Marlena Fiol on March 13, 2020 at 3:16 pm

    Shirley, such a poignant metaphor, your broken-winged bird!

    I’m seeing fear, yes. But I’m also sensing more compassion and care for others…maybe this will be a wakeup call for all of us to double down on showering time and affection on the people around us.

    And I didn’t even realize this was Friday the 13th until you reminded me. Hmm.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 13, 2020 at 9:27 pm

      Marlena, your dream of showering love and affection on the people around us (from an appropriate “social distance” of course) is one I hope will happen too. My husband and I will be spending a lot of time together . . . and missing our friends, our church, and the wonderful trips we had planned.

      A wake up call to love would be a great idea.

  2. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on March 13, 2020 at 3:49 pm

    You found something precious that was lost, then it became even more special because you found it after your meditation, then it became a haiku and a blog post, and finally an encouragement to others—and this all happened on Friday the 13th! What a wonderful chain of events!
    Our Prime Minister’s wife has the Corona Virus, so he too is confined to his home. Manitoba (the province where I live) and the last untouched by the virus now also has three cases. We are all stopped in our tracks, wondering how this will all play itself out. God have mercy on our broken wings!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 13, 2020 at 9:30 pm

      You made me chuckle, Elfrieda. Your account of my day sounds like a rap. 🙂 I hope your first family fully recovers and is back in public view after the two weeks of quarantine. God have mercy on our broken wings, indeed.

  3. Carol Warner on March 13, 2020 at 3:58 pm

    What a wonderful metaphor your little one-winged bird was for the brokenness of our society at this moment.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 13, 2020 at 9:31 pm

      Thank you, Carol. I’ll just repeat Elfrieda’s phrase above to underscore your point: God have mercy on our broken wings.

  4. Tina Barbour on March 13, 2020 at 6:10 pm

    Thank you for sharing your gift with us. I am trying to hold on to the belief that we will get through this together. I worry about Larry getting the virus and worry about whether or not I’m doing all the things I need to do to protect him and me and others. These things naturally feed into my anxiety (including hand washing OCD). But ….. we are all in this together, and I try to remember that any effort and any sacrifice on my part can be a gift to others. There will be a new normal, but the things on which I base my values and sense of being won’t change. Blessings to you and your family, Shirley!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 13, 2020 at 9:39 pm

      Blessings to you and Larry and your kitties, Tina. (I was glad to read that animals do not seem to be a problem in this crisis.)

      I wonder if what you have learned about OCD might actually be a blessing to others in this time? You can indeed be a gift to others by sharing what you have learned from a lifetime of dealing with anxiety. We all have some degree of OCD at one time or another. Right now we need to be reminded of the strong center of hope and faith others have learned to rely upon in times of crisis. You have wisdom to share on this, I am certain.

  5. Marian Beaman on March 13, 2020 at 7:37 pm

    It’s easy to fall into fear and confusion when surrounded by chaos. Along with prayer, deductive reasoning to the rescue in the case of the broken wing: Way to go!

    Retrieving the broken wing reminds us that we do have hope: that your health and that of the nation will be restored . . . . and that the wellbeing of our loved ones will be preserved.

    Not surprisingly, my students always enjoyed the Langston Hughes poem. I’m pleased that you printed it here – along with the poignant (not humble) haiku! I join you in fervent prayer for all those listed, dear Shirley.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 13, 2020 at 9:48 pm

      Thank you for these kind words, Marian. I have emerged from a nasty chest cold and am almost myself again. I really wish I could help my children and grandchildren at a distance more (their schools and day care are closed, and their parents are trying to work), but not only is travel a problem, so is intergenerational exposure. We are only beginning to see the long-term impact. And so our prayers.

  6. Melodie Davis on March 13, 2020 at 9:55 pm

    This has been an incredible week and not just for the world wide health crisis, but in our own lives. Not Corona, but first the death of Challace McMillin Sunday morning of our congregation, peacefully in his sleep. The next day we learned of the death of Ruth Heatwolean swim exercise class at VMRC. Her body was frail while I knew her this past year in the class, but her smile would still light up a room and her husband’s eyes, so long long married. The next day our longtime housekeeper at Mennonite Media and the credit union, Doris Sites died after a year’s struggle with cancer. Then today, a cousin, Joyce Brinn, went to her heavenly home after a week on a ventilator. Again, not Corona, but after a fall caused by … none of us know at this point. And in the middle of it all spending two days at Augusta Medical through my husband’s knee replacement. And finding out tonight that not even my sister can visit our mother in rehab in Goshen after her broken hip, due to Corona.

    My heart is heavy, in need of the hope and light we find here. Dreams will return, I am sure of it.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 14, 2020 at 9:57 am

      Oh Melodie, what a week! I can feel the heaviness of your heart.

      I especially feel for your mother and you and your sister as you find ways to stay connected even while being apart physically. My own mother is on a trip to the SW and is planning to arrive back at her retirement community on
      Tuesday. Who knows what the restrictions might be by then?

      “God have mercy on our broken wings!” And God bless and keep you in this time of grief.

  7. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on March 13, 2020 at 10:14 pm

    Thank you Shirley, and your readers for this inspiration to guide us through our trials.

    One day in early February I lost my wallet. I searched diligently in all the places I had been in between the time I last knew I had my wallet and the time I discovered it was missing. I asked and alerted people who might have been nearby or to whom it might have been turned in. Every day I checked with my bank to see if there were any charges on my credit card that might have been made by someone else. Nothing. I asked for the wisdom of Sophia to guide me and any one else involved. I imagined it getting run over in a parking lot, but also that it might return to me in the mail and other ways. Finally I began the process to replace two of the cards.

    Then, last Saturday, 3 weeks to the date of the loss, a phone call came. My wallet had been turned in to the clinic where I had taken my ailing neighbor that day in early February. I went immediately to the clinic, and found the wallet was still plump and unscathed and full of every card and ticket and 5 dollar bill that it had when I last saw it. The clinic had a name of the person who found it, so I wrote them a glowing note, put the cash in the note, and happily came home with my wallet.

    It still feels like a miracle that my little gray wallet is back.

    Thank you for making space to tell about this.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 14, 2020 at 10:04 am

      Dear Dolores, now there’s a broken wing restored story! You not only got your wallet back again with minimal damage, but you also had a resurrected sense of trust in fellow human beings. I am not surprised that you were on a mission of mercy yourself when you lost the wallet. And I am sure your note and the cash put a permanent smile on the finder’s face. The power of “little” things is easy to under-estimate in these stressful times. Let us hope for the magnification of many mercies and many dreams.

  8. Debby Ritchie on March 14, 2020 at 8:33 am

    Shirley, your entire piece this time was like poetry and brought peace to my heart. As a nurse (50 years in May) and retired now, I have seen much and taken care of many sick patients and yes, their families. Thank you for the reminder that dreams are still important even in my stage of life.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 14, 2020 at 3:58 pm

      Dear Debby, I am so glad this piece brought you peace! With fifty years of experience serving the health of others, you have a special role to play in this crisis. You can “dream” of kind words, healing touches, and light a candle in your home for all the sufferers.

  9. Merril D. Smith on March 14, 2020 at 3:04 pm

    There is something special about finding something precious that was lost–especially when it was right there all the time–like it was waiting for the right moment to reveal itself.
    Langston Hughes is one of my younger daughter’s favorites. I bought her a collection of his work.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 14, 2020 at 4:01 pm

      Exactly, Merril! As soon as I found the wing, I had to chuckle that I had not really looked in one of the most obvious of places. It did indeed “reveal itself” in the moment.

      A mother who buys her daughter poetry books is a mother to be treasured too. As is the daughter. As is Langston Hughes.

      Have you found this podcast yet? I love the most recent one, but all of them are great! https://onbeing.org/series/poetry-unbound/

  10. Laurie Buchanan on March 15, 2020 at 11:16 am

    Shirley — I’m so glad you found the hummingbird’s wing. I especially love the final photo you shared with the hummingbird in silhouette against the rolling meadow backdrop.

    To answer your question…

    In addition to the profusion of spring buds we see on our daily walks (the promise of spring—a sign of hope), I’ve encountered so many people who are intentionally looking for ways to help others. It brings to mind the quote:

    “When you don’t know what to do for yourself, do something for someone else.” — Katherine Center, How to Walk Away

    • Shirley Showalter on March 15, 2020 at 11:46 am

      You are encountering people who are looking for ways to help others because that is the kind of person YOU are, Laurie.

      Thanks for mentioning the silhouette version of the photo. That is the only picture that shows the true genius of the Cuban artisan’s design.

      We are having early spring here too. Something to enjoy as we stay away from crowds and go on our walks. New life will emerge.

  11. Judith Trumbo on March 15, 2020 at 11:21 am

    Wow, Shirley! How amazing to see a bee hummingbird in all his brilliance!! That is a once in a lifetime experience and, as you write, an annunciation that continues to bring hope during this time of Lent and uncertainty. Then to find the broken wing amidst the jungle! So true that we need to look in the “obvious places” when we feel at a loss otherwise.

    I just got off the phone with my mother who was watching a VMRC worship service broadcast since all gatherings are cancelled. She said that Steve and Eric, our chaplains, did a wonderful job with the service. I could hear Steve playing the piano and singing in the background. I am reminded of the hymn, “My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation. I catch the sweet, though far-off hymn that hails a new creation. No storm can shake my inmost calm while to that rock I’m clinging. Since Love is Lord of heav’n and earth, how can I keep from singing?”

    Finding hope and love in “obvious places.” Be well. Keep singing!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 15, 2020 at 11:55 am

      Thank you, Judith, for connecting the original Advent season bee hummingbird annunciation to our current season of Lenten uncertainty and suffering.

      We participated in the Community Mennonite Church virtual service this morning too. Our prayers were interspersed with “Healer of Our Every Ill.” Thank God for music and for hymn texts sung in many contexts and made new again every time.

      I am sure that Steve and Eric were a blessing to all the VMRC residents this morning. You and all the staff and residents are in my daily prayers.

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