It was a cold Tuesday morning and one of our two-yards-per-week opportunities. I contemplated briefly remaining under the warm blanket, as being stuck on the yard for the next two hours seemed less appealing, but as usual, the rare chance to walk through the open door was enough of a draw to pull me out of bed. I got up, took care of the morning necessities, dressed and walked to the yard with the others.

I had been lost in my thoughts the past couple of days, feeling a bit nostalgic and forlorn and wasn’t really up to much conversation. I lifted a few weights without enthusiasm in relative silence before setting out to walk the yard’s perimeter alone.

On my third time around, hands shoved deep into my pockets, my head hanging low and lost at times into the white clouds of my breath, I approached a somewhat secluded corner of the yard when I heard very close to me the familiar voice of a Cardinal. Now anyone who knows me knows I love birds and have spent time just watching them in awed wonder, fascinated with their individual songs, beauty and envied freedom of flight; today was no different.

My head napped up, searching for the source of those diverse songs. There, knowing exactly what to look for, not twenty feet from me perched on the bare branches of the ivy still clinging tightly to the cliffs, the rocky face outside the fence, were two Cardinals; one male, one female. The bright red of the male paled the plumage of the female, yet the beauty of each radiated like a bright light into a dark corner of the world—my world.

They sang song after song as if I wasn’t there; as if they knew I posed no threat. First one, then the other, as if from a stage they were performing to a captive audience and, I might add, captivated. I stood there mesmerized in place for nearly ten full minutes in wonder as I had done many times before; as if they could actually understand each other in their call-and-answer way of singing when, suddenly, they flew off.

I was startled back to reality when two inmates walked pass me in hushed conversation without giving me anything more than a curious glance. I took a quick look around in depleting hopes of seeing the pair once more before walking off myself.

I hadn’t gone too far when the magic of the situation revealed itself to me while off in the distance, beyond my sight, I again heard the familiar songs echoing out from the trees on the hill. As I had stood in that corner alone, wrapped in my own self-pity and doubts of worth, those two birds, I believe, knew the song was going out of my own heart so they gave me theirs to replace it. They weren’t singing as if I wasn’t there; they were singing because I was there.

It was in that moment, their songs still echoing in the distance, I was reminded of the words from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, “Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Fear not, therefore, you are more valuable than many sparrows” (Matt.6:26, 10:31).

It’s so easy to get caught up and lost in our own self-worthlessness and apathy when surrounded by negativity and hate all day, every day. But, if we keep our eyes, ears and hearts open to all things good, even the simple songs of birds can build on our hope in the promise of Jesus Christ. “May the Lord bless and keep you; may He make His face to shine upon you and be gracious to you, keeping you safe from all harms; may He lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace” (Matt. 6:24-26).

~ Jim Shuman N-43662 Menard, IL