|Photo by Ekaterina Novitskaya on Unsplash|
A dozen or so years ago, my father died at the age of 77. My dad was a wonderful man. I loved him very much and losing him was the saddest thing that I had ever experienced in my life. Dad died on a Sunday evening – on Grandparents Day of all things – and his memorial service was held the following Friday at a church in the hills above Whittier, California where I grew up. I arrived at the church on the afternoon of his service, and as I stepped out of the car in the parking lot, a flock of what must have been a thousand blackbirds circled overhead in a choreographed, acrobatic, airborne dance. Suddenly, as if on a cue, the birds all settled gracefully on the limbs of various nearby trees.
Now I am not by any means a touchy-feely, crystal-gazing, new-age sort of person, and I am skeptical of people who see spirits, read auras, or hear voices. Nonetheless, as I stood that day and watched those birds circling in the air above me, I felt an unmistakable presence, if not the presence of a person exactly, then at least the presence of a presence, and it felt good and reassuring at a time when I desperately wanted to feel good and be reassured. I have no empirical evidence to back me up on this, but seeing those birds in the Whittier Hills on that long, sad afternoon somehow let me know in some mysterious, unspoken, intuitive manner that everything was going to be okay.
To this day, whenever I see a flock of blackbirds circling in the sky or perched on the limbs of a tree, I think of my dad, I feel his presence, and I smile. Seeing blackbirds in flight also makes me feel grateful to live in a world that has room for both blackbirds and people like my dad, and to be thankful that I was given the privilege to be his son and to know him for as long as I did. Blackbirds also remind me that, in the end, everything really will be all right.
To this day, if you happen to stop by our house looking for me on any given weekend, you will probably find me working outside in the yard somewhere. And if you pay close attention, you may notice that no matter what yardwork or gardening task I may happen to be involved with at any particular moment, I will periodically glance up at the sky and scan the horizon for blackbirds. And now you’ll know that, while on one level I really am just looking for blackbirds because I like birds, you’ll also know that in another very real sense, I’m also looking for my father.