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17 April 2016

Sunday Psalms – Season Two – Episode 3: The Blackbird

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The Blackbird

Sunday Psalms: Fictional Narratives Inspired by the Psalms, Proverbs, & Other Biblical Works

Stupid Blackbird. All you do is sit there. Silently brooding on that obnoxious wire that runs from pole to pole, obstructing the picturesque view in front of my house. Like a dark cloud preceding an unwelcome storm, the death call reaching your ears, you swooped down with an ominous squawk, your last statement before taking this vow of silence. For seven days and seven night you have been a mute sentry. You’ve made it your mission to torment me with your gargoyle reticence.

As I glare at you through the window, I notice the green Sedan as it pulls up the drive, and I sigh. The first of the mourners have arrived. My mother and my mother-in-law — an unlikely pair who have found comfort in their common widowhood. Now that my bride has departed from this world, these two are committed to helping me through this process. Easier for them to try to ease my grief by ignoring their own. Yes sir, I am a grown man with two mothers and no wife.

“You’re looking gaunt,” my mother informs me as she bumbles through the front door and plants a kiss on my cheek. “Emaciated if you ask me.” Since Pop died she’s been reading thick novels and using words that no one bothers with anymore. I find it annoying.

Now that my Madeline is gone, I suspect that Mom will begin to hint about moving in, and I try to plan how I will break the news to her that the two of us cannot be roommates. “Mmm,” I mumble as she plops down two pies and a pasta salad on the kitchen counter. I know she’s right; in the past week, I’ve hardly eaten a thing. The food I typically crave has lost its luster. After all, who could eat? In just a matter of days I lose my job and we give birth to our stillborn child. And to top it all off, my wife slips away from me, joining my child in eternity. All thanks to a careless mistake by a junior nurse who forgot to read the label on my wife’s medication. We can send astronauts to the moon, we can communicate with people on the other side of the planet, but we can’t give our patients the right prescription. So yeah, I haven’t eaten much this week.

And you, Blackbird. What about you? I’m on the verge of an emotional paralysis, and you offer nothing. Stupid bird. Just loitering. I’m tempted to throw a rock at you. Knock you off of your perch and get you to make some noise, but that would take too much energy.

Close on the heels of my two mothers, I hear the screeching of a pickup truck. A welcome excuse to leave them in the kitchen where they prepare a plate with more food than I can imagine eating. Stepping outside, I notice that the boisterous truck has nearly smashed into the electric pole that supports your wire. My kid brother with all of his bravado has arrived, and you, Blackbird, give no indication that you have been phased by this dramatic fanfare.

“Sorry about Madeline, man,” my brother says as he comes up the walk. “This really blows. Stupid hospital. You should sue.” He is not the first to suggest this, as if money will somehow bring back my dead wife.

“Yeah. Maybe,” I tell him and awkwardly accept his hug. He smells of cigarettes and black coffee.

“Brought you something,” he says and slips me a bottle of something illegal. I am momentarily tempted to take one of the pills, but you and I both know I’ll flush them down the toilet after everyone has gone home.

I stay outside as my brother goes into the house where the mothers profusely greet him, eager to fill him with food. Good. They’ll be momentarily occupied with something other than my eating habits. 

Standing there on the porch, I have become a melancholy sentry myself. I no longer need a house, a career, or a purpose. Everything I ever wanted died in that hospital. But I don’t have much time to ponder my circumstances as car after car begins to arrive, carrying various friends and family that need attending. Each one takes the opportunity to hug me, to provide a somber expression and ask, “How you doin’?”

How do you think I’m doing?! 

I really want to scream at them. What kind of a question is that? And what about you, Blackbird. No questions at all from you? Unlike the mourners, you stiffly linger in silence. tree 

Eventually I leave you to your solitude and go back inside where the walls are lined with people dressed in blacks and grays and navy blues. All except Aunt Josephine who has dared to attend in a rich purple ensemble; I have to admire her for that.

Numbly scanning the faces, I realize that I haven’t seen most of these people in months, even years, but now that I am at the lowest point in my life, they see it as their duty to be here, to fix me. They are convinced that now is the time to catch up and get re-acquainted. It’s as if they all read the same article on how to interact with people in grief. Better to say something rather than ignore the situation...I’d like to write my own article.

And how about you, you annoying bird? Who invited you in the first place? Don’t you have anything to say, to add to the throng? Not even a chirp? A crow? All these people will spend the afternoon jabbering, consoling, patting me on the shoulder, yet you alone offer no demonstration of grief. 

The living room clock ticks by so slowly that I think time must have stopped with Madeline’s last breath. It seems I am destined to a suffocating existence with ignorant people who ask questions I don’t care to answer; their suggestions and sentiments mean nothing to me right now:

-I know of a great support group for widowers.
-What about a trust? A foundation in their honor?
-Have you talked to the life insurance people? She did have insurance, right?
-Interesting choice, cremation.
-It will get better. You’ll see.

Idiotic suggestions from people who don’t understand. The most they’ve ever lost is a pet. What do they know about how I’m feeling? Sure, they mean well, but why can’t they just shut up? No matter where I go, someone is talking to me, pouring me coffee, or handing me an unidentifiable casserole to put in the freezer. I swear, Blackbird, I’m beginning to envy you. All I want is to crawl into a dark hole and close my eyes until I wake from this nightmare, while you — you get to sit there in your glorious lethargy. I’d rather be anywhere than this mourner’s house. The only reason I stay is because it’s my house; I can’t exactly leave my own wife’s memorial. Can I?

Eventually the hours pass, and the sun finally sinks into the western sky, signaling the end of the obligatory reception. The last of the verbose mourners have piled into their cars and left me to sit in the quiet. All of these well-meaning folks with their wishful thinking, their presumed words of comfort, and I am grateful to finally be alone.

And there you are, Blackbird, faithful to your post. Your silhouette begins to fade with the sun, and I am suddenly aware that you are the only one who has understood. You are the silent presence I have needed.

♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2:11-13 (ESV)

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Questions to Ponder: How do you respond to people in grief?

Who has been a source of comfort to you in times of grief?

Song Recommendation: Blackbird Song as performed by Lee DeWyze (available on Itunes)

Read Previous Sunday Psalms: Season One Episodes, Season Two: Episode 1, Episode 2

Written by Heidi Sadler, Inspired by Job 2. © 2016, Heidi Sadler, All Rights Reserved.

The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®) copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. ESV® Text Edition: 2011. The ESV® text has been reproduced in cooperation with and by permission of Good News Publishers. Unauthorized reproduction of this publication is prohibited. All rights reserved.

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