Thursday, July 19, 2012

When Dreams Are Dashed

Peripheral vision:

something falls from the sky.

(Swoops. Dashes. Dive-bombs.)

Even though I’m busy glopping on mascara, it gets my attention.

There’s a window next to my bathroom mirror. I look out, and notice a messy bird’s nest atop a square column* on the upstairs balcony.

*(On the capital, for architecture enthusiasts.)

Dumb birds! I think. Making a big mess all over the porch. Just can’t wait to clean up all that goop and poop. And feathers and moss and grass and twigs.

A while later, as I’m getting ready to head out the door, I see her looking at me. 

An insignificant little brown bird. Nothing special about her at all. But we stare at each other, separated by glass and about 5 feet. Neither of us blink. I try not to move. I can actually see her round brown eyes. Strange, I think, that she’s not scared of being so close to a human being.

 Truth be told, I am the one who should be scared of her.

But scared is not really the word.


I suffer from ornithophobia.

(Ornithophobia: an abnormal, irrational fear of birds. Can cause the following symptoms: breathlessness, dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea, dry mouth, feeling sick, shaking, heart palpitations, inability to speak or think clearly, a fear of dying, becoming mad or losing control, or a full-blown anxiety attack.)

I can pick up insect, spider, lizard, or (tiny) snake and remove it from the view of screaming friends or relatives without a flinch. I can march into woods, underbrush, or creek without a moment’s trepidation.  I can dive into any dark opaque green Georgia lake and let fish nibble my toes without freaking out. I can walk around the wrong side of town without getting the heebeegeebees. I can get through Russian Customs without even sweating much.

But I completely lose my mind if a bird gets too close to me.

Part of it has to do with experiencing Alfred Hitchcock at a vulnerable age. Then, there was the time when a large, flapping bird was seeking retaliation on my cat… and, when I tried to rescue the cat… on me. A pigeon nightmare at St. Mark’s Square in Venice, combined with several other European blueberry-ingested crow-dumpings in my hair, cemented the phobia. (Birds are obsessed with my head. Love it. Take every opportunity to baptize me in drippy excrement when there are no sani-wipes to be had. My husband thinks this is hysterically funny.)

But I think my phobia may be larger than merely circumstantial. It could actually be genetic in this case.

The loveliest… most elegant… genteel… relative I have (think Jackie Kennedy, but Southern and even classier) once overturned a bridge table when the hostess’s canary escaped its cage.

For whatever reason,

(Or at least I hate them up close. I like the idea of them. I like the romanticism connected with them... the symbolism.)

But I hate their sharp, mean, pointy beaks and their nasty, crunchy feet. (Claws that can scratch your eyes out.) I hate their frightening, flapping wings and their disgusting, unhygienic feathers. (Drive heave.) I hate their beady eyes and the way they rush at your table before you’ve finished eating outside. (Especially at the beach. They are without shame.)

But I am far more terrified of a dead bird than a live one. Then those horrible claws and gagging feathers can’t fly out of my way.

One of the worst terrors of my life was stepping on a dead bird in a pair of thin sandals. That’s the one and only thing I remember about a family trip.



Evidently, I must spend a lot of time “getting ready.”

I start noticing that silly little bird sitting on her nest outside my bathroom window more every day.

She’s there when I yawn into the mirror to inspect the depository of food in my “adult braces.” She’s there while I’m washing my face. Brushing my teeth. Drying my hair. Lining my puffy eyes.

Her swift, downward plunges still catch me by surprise.


Down, down, down she goes. Three stories down.

After a few minutes, she wafts back up to resume her perch.

I am reminded of Horton the Elephant

She sits, and she sits, and she sits, and she sits.

Man, is she faithful, one hundred percent!

Bizarrely, inexplicably…

The Enemy and I become friends.

 I grow sad if I don’t see her for a while. I worry.

Where is she? What happened? Have the eggs hatched? Have the babies flown?

Did that scary hawk get her?

Reassuringly, she always comes back home to sit on her eggs.

There’s something about it that touches me. Makes me feel like the world’s a better place. It causes me to think about faithfulness and selflessness and patience and tenacity.

The sacrificial heart of a mother.

Those baby birds will never even know how often she flung herself down from the heights just to feather their nest. How she clipped her own wings… gave up her joyous dancing flights through the trees… to patiently sit and warm them with the beating of her heart.

Just as our babies don’t remember the times we human mothers lay down our own desires in order to meet their needs.

Watching my little friend day after day, I see the beauty of self-sacrifice.

Weeks fly by.

We leave town several times and come back. She’s still there.

Until one day, when I look out the window and notice the nest leaning precariously on its side. I hear agitated bird-talk coming from the trees.

Since, technically, I’m still scared of birds, I go out to the hall and yell for my husband. I want him to do something… to fix it back before all the eggs fall out…

But by the time I get back to the bathroom, the nest is completely on its side, and I can see that there are no eggs left in it.

I feel a surprising, sickening sense of loss.

My husband and I go out on the porch. I guess that hawk got ‘em, he says.

One little broken egg remains on the porch, bright yellow yolk against the brick.

So that’s it, I think. All of those weeks she sat and sat… all of her dreams for her babies… come to this.

And I start crying.

For a bird.

But I realize that it’s about much more than a bird.

The world will break your heart into a thousand different pieces in a thousand different ways.

There’s a choice:

You can harden your heart until it’s as rigid and unyielding as a hard-boiled egg,

or you can allow it to stay soft.



Sometimes dreams are dashed.

Babies are miscarried.

There is death instead of birth. Emptiness instead of plenty.




We cannot always protect ourselves. We cannot shield our children from pain and suffering.

Sometimes fragile hearts shatter against such hard realities, and life and joy seem to spill out like yolk from a broken egg.

For there is no truly safe place on this fallen planet.

No place you can hide, where your heart won’t sometimes be dashed into brittle bits, and your guts spilled out on the hot bricks.

Except for in the arms of the One who knows when every sparrow falls.


Back in the house, I dry my eyes and get a grip.

Glancing out the French doors on my way downstairs, I see that mother bird perched back up on the overturned nest. Not willing to believe the story’s over.

And then this amazing thing happens.

Another bird comes and perches on the railing alongside her. They talk. They pirouette through the trees, then come back. She returns to the overturned nest; he waits on the banister below, keeping her company.

They repeat the dance several times, but keep coming back.

They’re still at it the next morning, even though the nest has finally fallen down to the brick floor of the porch.

They circle back by for several days.

(One is on the far left; the other on the far right. Can you see them?)

We leave town again. When we return, I come back to these musings. I start looking through the crummy pictures I’ve taken to illustrate my story. A technical difficulty has wiped out the recent photos on my Iphone, so I go back outside to take another picture of the fallen nest.

And this is all there is:

I get a little chill.

What happened to the nest?

What if those birds didn’t give up? What if they came back and picked through the rubble to salvage what they could? What if they used the broken bits to start again somewhere?

Sometimes dreams are dashed.

But there is always a future and a hope.

And there is love, 

which comes alongside to face the pain 


and start again from the broken shells of dreams.


This was mostly written in June, when I started thinking wistfully about blogging again. I decided to publish it today because it seems to speak to our current situation in many ways. Btw, does anyone recognize what kind of bird it is? 


emily said...

this blessed me.. thank you so much for sharing it..
and the bird looks like a song sparrow...

debi said...

I had lunch with a friend today and we were both commenting what a gifted writer you are. Thank you for sharing your writing with us! It's always thought provoking and a blessing.

Mary Walsh said...

It looks like a sparrow to me. And I also remember a bird encounter on the mission trip I took with you to Russia!

Kim said...


Yes, Mary, juicy bird poop on my pillow! Which I didn't notice until after I lay down in it!! Forgot about that one. Thanks for reminding me!

Since you and Emily concur, I'm going to believe it was a sparrow. (I was hoping it was!) That makes the story even sweeter.

"...for His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me."

(btw, thank you all for your sweet words.)


Kim said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lindsey Hoskinson said...

Beautiful post! I'm so glad you're back in the saddle!

KBroome said...

Such a sweet story to parallel real life.

Emily Ferris said...

thank you for sharing! this really touched me, especially in light of the tragedy in CO today. Thankfully we know to Whom we can turn!! And even more thankful He promises never to leave us or forsake us!

Anonymous said...

Phoebe. I recognize the the muddy, messy "glue" that holds the fragile nest to its precarious perch. They build on the narrow ridge along the top of the breezeway between our house and garage every year. Mud drips for days while they build. And then we watch as BOTH birds devotedly sit, then feed, then encourage the flight, one by one, until all are gone.

Beautiful piece, Kim. Welcome back. SO sorry to read about Katherine. --Dianne Penny

Unknown said...

Please write a book...You could reach so many more people with a book...bless so many more people with a book...offer hope to so many more people with a book...Please write a book.

Anonymous said...

You MUST publish your beautiful writings so all your fans will have a bound collection. I am in awe of those who can stimulate strong emotions with their words. As I've said before, you are a gifted writer...thanks for sharing your thoughts. Btw, I completely relate to being a target for bird excrement..especially sea gulls. I obviously look like a bird potty to them! ;)
Continually praying for minimal discomfort and speedy recovery for Katherine.

Love & prayers,


Patty Hatch said...

Had a bird in my bedroom once. Came in thru an open window. Perched on my nice plantation blinds and pooped right on my pillow. Oh, but to watch it fly in circles looking for the exit. Wow! Kids and I talked about that for days to come.

Jeannie said...

Kim, you are going to "love" this.

Thanks for sharing your love of birds with us. "Put a bird on it".
Hope it makes you laugh.


Elizabeth said...

What an amazing and beautiful way of putting such a hard reality of life. Prayers for you and your family as alway.