Like a lot of us, I sometimes fail to notice life beyond my own circumstances. Preoccupied with the everyday, neglecting to take the time to appreciate the air we breathe, the earth we stand on, and the sky that encompasses our very being. That has recently changed for me. If everyone is granted a life changing moment, this is mine.
It's not as though I'm taking more notice of my surroundings out of choice, really. Inadvertently, involuntary, and as if its presence is thrust upon me, there it is-a constant dose of reflection, remembrance, and reality that has made itself a part of my daily life. One creature, specifically the blackbird, which demands my immediate attention. I never anticipated these beings having this type of impact on my life. Apparently, I am not the only one. Native American cultures have long revered the bird, considering them a symbol of the human soul, representing intelligence, wisdom, and enlightenment. Free to roam the earth and sky, the blackbird is believed to embody freedom and a proposal toward the future, a notion that I'm only coming closer to understanding. A long list of literary references to the blackbird in poetry, music, and film only allegorically confirm and strengthen this idea of soulful illumination. And, according to Celtic legend, the blackbird bridges the gap between earth and the unknown realms of eternal life, providing the link between heaven and earth and the distance between us and God. So why this sudden awareness? Because the blackbird anthropomorphizes the brother I suddenly and tragically lost over two years ago.
I find it difficult not to focus on the unfairness of his death. I have this memory of him as a child that plays in my head like a Shakespearian tragedy on a daily basis. In order to escape the dullness the adults were providing after dinner at my grandparent's house, he and I slipped away to explore what we called the "holler," a deeply wooded small valley that allowed us both to believe that in that moment, only Mother Nature was sharing the same breath as us. He stopped short at the ravine, little sister trailing behind as usual, pointed to the sky, and said, "One day, I'll know what it's like to be free like those birds." As I grew older, I painfully watched him lose himself. He grew more distant from me and my family by the day until the day he died. I realize now that he wasn't at fault. He never fully accepted the idea of living like the rest of the world, and he certainly was not afraid to be his own. That didn't come without consequences, though, because he also suffered from an undiagnosed bipolar disorder. By the time we reached adulthood, I had seen my older brother through numerous jobs and bouts of unemployment, seclusion, drug addition, alcoholism, and finally the inevitable divorce to the beloved sister-in-law whom I adored. He had just moved out of my parent's and into the apartment with his new girlfriend when it happened. Now I live with the injustice of him never experiencing the joys of life or the happiness he deserved. Selfishly, I resent the fact that I will never get to be an aunt, my own children have no uncle or cousins to grow up with, my parents have lost a child, and me, my only brother. But most of all, I resent the death itself. According to the police reports, he had laid suffering for over twelve hours before he was found. For a long time, my brother "being free" like a bird seemed as distant as the last star in a dark sky.
I can only speculate as to why exactly my brother appreciated the blackbird, and I often wonder whether or not he fully respected the symbolism as I do now, or if he ever anticipated the eternal lasting signature it's become. The last email I received from him was from the address birdsindeadtrees at x dot com. Every one of his multiple tattoos either had a blackbird or tree. After this death, his Facebook was inundated with pictures of blackbirds sent by friends because they were fully aware of its impact on him before his death. As my parents, sister-in-law, and I planned the funeral, we discovered his newest tattoo sketch marking the passage of Isiah 40:31 in a Bible we didn't even know existed. As if sending one last message of comfort to my parents, the lines read:
"But those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint."
With my brother being a self-proclaimed agnostic person who would never commit to the conformity of our upbringing, I agonizingly battled with the fate of his new eternal existence. This verse only muddled those thoughts. Of all the pains of his death, this was by far the worst. I couldn't imagine the God I love sentencing a lost soul to an unknown eternity. Nonetheless, it was the blackbird sketch that signified the beginning of recovery and healing.
Days after the death, I received a condolence from an unexpected person. A girlfriend from years gone by, the only of my brother's few girlfriends who ever took the time to notice the little sister, and the girlfriend who would become his angel. In her message, she said: "In church the day after David died, I was silently praying for him and your family, and I felt the message 'He is with Me.' And then, 'Many are praying for him.'" I doubt she knew the impact her words would have, both then and now. Those are the words that carry me through my grief and healing. On the day of his funeral, only a day after what would have been his thirty-third birthday, my grandmother said that just before she left for the service, a flock of blackbirds too numerous to count blanketed the sky just after feeling someone say "I've made it Home." It was only fitting that the Beatle's song "Blackbird" laid him rest, a song that now fills the doubts and reminds me that wherever Home is, he is free from this life.
Maybe he just appreciated the bird, or maybe he had a celestial understanding beyond anyone's comprehension that these birds would someday offer a connection beyond the ordinary; something that would evince a feeling of closeness with the world, oneness with his environments, and a divine connection that was enhanced when the two were combined. Regardless, I am thankful for the reminders that are sent my way.