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  • Writer's pictureDrew Dotson

A little birdie

I approached the window just in time to see half of my favorite tree topple to the ground. I stood there, mouth agape in disbelief, as I watched the landscaping crew load the branches with the other yard debris. A part of my heart, too, felt like it had been lopped off. That tree was supposed to be left untouched, and now it was unrecognizable. It was practically limbless, and I could hardly bring myself to look at it. Tears welled up in my eyes. Yep, I’m still talking about the tree.

For the year that I’ve lived in this house, that tree has been a source of hope. As I work from my desk in the sunroom, it keeps me company. It’s the tree that all the birds frequent, and I especially love when the cardinals stop by. I learned about the symbolism of cardinals about four years ago when someone told me that cardinals were considered hellos from our deceased loved ones. Though the verbiage varies from culture to culture, cardinals have long been recognized as positive messengers.

When my friend Lindsey’s husband, Mike, died from leukemia in March 2020, I started seeing a lot of cardinals. It was near the time of Ramón's relapse and bone marrow transplant, so each time I saw one, I viewed it as reassurance from Mike. When Ramón died a few months later, it was as though he joined forces with Mike, and, together, they were delivering a message of hope.

In the split second I witnessed the treetop fall to the earth, it felt like a link was broken between this world and the one beyond. I feared the cardinals would move along, to go find a tree that didn’t look so pathetic. In the backyard the next day, I started chatting with my neighbor. I told him about the incident — the catastro-tree as I’d begun calling it. “You could get a bird feeder,” he suggested. My mind was blown. How could I not have thought of that? The answer is simple, really. I was still so stuck on the fact that the tree had been butchered that I wasn’t in prime problem-solving mode. I went inside, ordered a colorful bird feeder online, and looked forward to its arrival. Hope was on the way.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the role hope has played in my life. I approached hope with caution for a long time, fearful that by hoping too much, I would set only set myself up for letdowns. Throughout my life, I’ve heard that concept reiterated in different ways — the thought that preparing for or expecting the worst will somehow help you prevent or avoid disappointment in life. That I’ll be pleasantly surprised if a situation turns out better than expected, right? Although I bought into that mindset for years, it no longer suits me.

Above all, I prefer to be present — to soak in the moment I’m currently experiencing, rather than allowing my mental energy and focus to revert to the past or jump ahead to the future. And in cases when I find my mind in the future, I prefer to live in the space of hope. How would I be serving myself by preparing for potential worst-case scenarios? Let’s say I expect an event to be underwhelming and spend the time ahead of the event filled with dread, thinking of ways to get out of attending. No matter the outcome, my choice to “expect the worst” has now ruined the time leading up to the event, and likely any chance for a pleasant surprise.

Lately I have been feeling hopeful. I haven’t yet stumbled upon a publishing solution, but I’ve had many valuable conversations. And I welcome more for those of you who missed my first plea. My primary goal has been to tap into my network for connections to publishing companies or literary agents. I still get asked a lot about self-publishing, which is totally on my radar.

I’ve reached out to literary agents and publishers, and hope is alive and well. Instead of falling into old habits and approaching this with a (fruitless) “I bet they’ll hate it” mindset, I’m embracing the fact that, at any moment, I could receive a phone call or email delivering sensational news.

When the tree fell victim to the overzealous landscaping crew, I was devastated. On the surface, it was about the tree, but I’d also lost one of my most reliable sources of hope. Since hanging the bird feeder about two weeks ago, the barren tree is now more popular than ever. Guess who the most frequent visitors are? Nearly every morning, not long after I sit down to work, a cardinal pops by for breakfast. He brings hope with him.

Now I’ll just await the little birdie with the book news!

1 Comment

Mar 22, 2022

Hello, again, Drew. As usual, I loved your post and its message! I have heard the same thing about cardinals. I also heard that they "mate for life." Now, I don't know if that's true, but after my son's death in 2020, I started noticing a pair of cardinals hanging around my house. The male, of course, was a brilliant red, a striking figure against the grays of early Spring; his mate, the female, was a brownish-red color, not very flattering at all. I thought she could have used a splash of color, but apparently birds don't fancy scarves. As the months went on, I always saw these two together, and sometimes as I walked up my driveway to retrieve…

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