Baby spotted dove in front of peach sunrise

The Cracks that Make us Whole

I was seven months pregnant when I found an injured baby bird hopping around the middle of the road in front of our house.

He was lethargic and in a daze. I didn’t know if he had a broken wing or had just been tousled by a passing car. Either way I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving him scared and alone, to starve or fall prey to the foxes I’d seen around the neighborhood.

I had no clue how to care for a baby bird. There were stacks of baby books in my house but none were going to help me with this. Still, my pregnancy emotions had hijacked all logic and convinced me I had to nurse him back to health. I was going to be a mother soon — I should be able to do something.

I placed the little guy in a basket full of grass and twigs with a tiny bowl of water and took to Google…

Grey and white speckled bird
New York state bird species
bird grey beak
how to feed baby bird
give baby bird water
heal broken wing

It said I should place some bird seed in a shallow bowl nearby. It said I should keep the bird near a window where he could get sunlight. It said the bird I had found was a baby mourning dove, just around the age where they start flight training, and so they often fall from the nest unable to return.

And then it said that if you find one, you should leave it where it is because its parents will be watching over it to chase away danger and bring it food until it learns to fly.

My heart sank.

In trying to protect him I had probably done the worst possible thing. There was no returning him to his habitat now. Dusk was setting in and I knew a predator would snatch him up before his family found him again.

I set the basket with the bird and seed and water under the window in my daughter’s soon-to-be nursery — the safe space I had created for protection and warmth. I went to bed and prayed, but deep down, I knew I had sealed his fate.

I woke before sunrise and ran in to check. All of the seed and water was still there and he was lying on his side slowly opening and closing his beak as if struggling to call out to me for help. My eyes flooded with tears as I scooped up the basket and rushed outside to where I found him thinking maybe if I placed him on the ground his mother would swoop down with food and save him.

She didn’t.

I ran back and forth from the house to the basket, sobbing, desperately hoping for some revelation that would help me save this tiny, helpless creature I’d doomed. I grabbed the water dropper and cupped him in my hand in a last ditch effort to get him to drink, but he closed his beak one last time, and I watched the light fade from his eyes.

I fell to my knees, head in hands, and wept — crying out I’m so sorry! over and over and over again — to the baby bird, to God, and to my unborn daughter who was destined to be raised by this obviously unfit mother.

Why? It was just a bird.

But it wasn’t just a bird. Not to me. Not at that time. In just 12 short hours he had become a symbol of new life, of nature and nurturing and maternal instinct and the embodiment of everything I was about to embark on in my new journey; and then suddenly became the manifestation of all of my fears of inadequacy and failure.

I sat and cried, one hand on the baby bird and one around my belly, until the neon coral sun breached the horizon wrapping me in a warm, peach haze.

For a brief moment, I felt comforted.

Nearly two months later my daughter entered this world, but not without a struggle. Not that childbirth is ever without struggle, but it was a much different struggle than I’d envisioned.

There were oxygen masks and a dropping heart rate and a vacuum extractor and a chord around her neck. There was the panic in my husband’s face as he watched our daughter emerge; silent, still and blue. There were abnormally low APGAR scores and a diagnosis of neonatal encephalopathy and an ambulance ride through a snowstorm to the NICU. There were 72 hours of watching her shiver on a cooling blanket from induced hypothermia to prevent brain injury, wishing I could comfort her, already feeling like I was failing her.

That first night after her birth as I lay next to my rock of a husband, the deluge of emotions consumed me. I curled myself up into the tiniest ball, and

I.

broke.

down.

It was the primal kind of cry that pushes out from within, expelling all the blight that’s twisted up and knotted inside — the physical agony, the emotional exhaustion, the fears, the guilt, the shattered expectations.

It was cold, but as my tears settled I felt a familiar warmth; and in that reprieve my mind flashed back to the baby dove and that summer sunrise. I remembered the anguish I felt, and I knew in a way that that heart-wrenching morning was preparing me for this.

Because baby books and Google searches don’t prepare us for the unexpected; for the uncontrollable. They don’t tell us how to grieve the loss of something intangible, like an experience or a hope. They don’t tell us how to not blame ourselves for things that aren’t our fault or how to forgive ourselves for things that are. They don’t teach us how reach down and pull our strengths up and out of our weaknesses, and emerge ready to face the day.

Nothing can prepare us for life except for living.

And when we live out our nightmares — the aches that shake us so deep to the core that they almost break us — those are the cracks that make us whole.

Digital illustration by Brian Michael Sfinas

But, I Don’t Dance Like you Dance

How was I the last to know?

I must have been so engulfed in the sleepless nights of a two month old that I missed the memorial Facebook posts and mournful tributes to your life.

There were thousands of miles and year’s worth of living between us, but after hearing of your passing almost a year to the day later, I was overwhelmed with emotion. The forceful tears that followed were the kind I would have expected in grieving the loss of a close friend or relative rather than an old high school acquaintance I hardly knew. I’d gather my composure and hours later I’d lose it all over again.

It continued this way for days and I kept asking myself why I felt so strongly. Was it simply because you were far too young to leave this world? Was I grieving the loss of what your brilliant mind would have gifted society had you stayed? Maybe it was just too poignant a reminder of the impermanence of life — how could you be just fine one month, and gone the next? I was devastated for the grief of your family and loved ones.

But then I realized that maybe it was OK for me to simply mourn the loss of you. That maybe some people just touch our lives in ways we may never fully comprehend.

We met on the first day of sixth grade where the four separate area elementary schools combined into one middle school — an unfamiliar place surrounded by strange faces. You sat down at my table in art class along with a friend of yours and introduced yourself. I remember feeling comforted by your confidence and your friendly freckled face. You had cartoon-like jet black hair combed to one side, a chipmunk-cheeked grin revealing a perfect row of bright white teeth, and you spoke with a baritone eloquence that was far beyond your years. I remember this in detail because you were different — you were kind to me when many others weren’t. You didn’t bury yourself in your familiar world and you seemed unfazed by the negative opinions of others. An old soul; a free spirit, perhaps.

I immediately admired you for these qualities that were completely uncharacteristic of me. I wished I could brave the cruel world of adolescence with the same fearlessness you seemed to possess.

A poem you wrote and read aloud in eighth grade English was my first glimpse into your creative exploits. The lyrical fluidity of your words evoked such powerful emotion and sparked in me a desire to tackle the art of prose, though I never really attempted until much later in life.

You were a walking oxymoron. It was as if any darkness you carried you released through your art and your morose sense of humor, leaving you light and free. You exuded an honesty that was often mistaken for arrogance, but anyone paying attention could see the difference. I pitied those who dared enter into a debate with you. Your strong convictions and calm, quick-witted comebacks were a deadly combination, leading many to explode in their own frustration and left standing speechless. You didn’t filter your contempt for ignorance or apathy. You were judgmental, but in a way that a lack of hypocrisy makes judgement acceptable. What you expected from everyone else, you demanded from yourself tenfold.

Before graduation we each submitted quotes that were to appear beneath our senior yearbook photos, and I still find it amusing that the editorial staff let yours slip in:

“Have fun pumping gas Class of 2004.”

I think the only people that were upset by it were the ones who feared you were right. The rest of us took it as a challenge that we’d better make something of our lives and prove you wrong.

We had no contact the first few years following graduation, but then, by the grace of social media, high-school classmates around the world were connected once again and calling each other “friends”.

One day, an abstract digital illustration of my face appeared on my timeline with the caption “But, I don’t dance like you dance.” You said you had been playing around with a drawing app on your computer and pulled a few random profile pictures to experiment with. It was an outside view of my likeness I’d never seen before, and I cherished it in a way.

We struck up a conversation when you wrote a post about the TV show Gilmore Girls and how the writing was so underrated. I was glad there was someone else out there who rejected the notion that it was just a cheesy 90s sitcom about a teen girl and her mom, and I gained even more admiration for you through this ridiculous commonality.

You sent me some YouTube videos of songs you’d written and a PDF of one of your books, but it wasn’t one you ended up publishing. I tried reading it but I couldn’t get through it. It was far too explicit and violent for me to stomach, which speaks both to my own fears and limitations as well as your imagination and elaborately descriptive writing.

We occasionally kept up with each other’s random musings on Facebook and I enjoyed reading your religious and political commentary with others. Though I often disagreed with your viewpoints, it was clear that you held society to a high moral standard and were all-too-often disappointed. I appreciated that you remained as steadfast and unwavering in your convictions as you’d always been, and I purposefully (sheepishly maybe) avoided the self-sabotage of openly countering one of your positions.

And then one day, you faded away — from my news feed; from this world — and I didn’t even know.

Because we all have our own lives with people and places and things that are so in-our-face that we become temporarily blind to everything outside of our immediate reach. There are jobs and there are kids and bills and housework and we’re all just trudging along trying to stay sane while still maintaining some control of our own lives and our own self-worth.

But how hard your absence hit me showed me something.

We aren’t all just moving through this life like ants marching. We make stops at various intervals; we share space with one another to different degrees and learn from each other, making marks and planting seeds. From your presence in my life I gathered small insights into my own creative desires, proof of concept that opposing ideas can and should respectfully coexist, and a basic foundation of the importance of being true to yourself, making the most of your life, experimenting, and always trying to be better. From your absence, I discovered a profound truth about the interconnectedness of humanity, and that it’s possible to take comfort in one’s existence on earth even if they aren’t directly in sight, or part of our everyday world.

You didn’t believe in God — you made that clear in many of your ramblings — and the part of me that refuses to believe in a Godless Universe struggles to understand what that means for you, and desperately hopes you were wrong. I choose to believe that your spirit is still out there, being a smart-ass, playing guitar and writing poetry and sending inspiration down to all who cared for you.

“But, I don’t dance like you dance.”
I’ll never know what it meant because I never took the time to ask.

But you were right — I don’t dance like you danced, and I doubt that many do. You were truly one of a kind.

May you Rest in Peace, B.M.S.

Dining room with parquet flooring and moving boxes scattered about

The Hole in my Heart Where Home Used to Be


— *at home
1 : relaxed and comfortable : at ease


This morning, Facebook reminded me that exactly one year ago was the last time I set foot in the house I considered home for nearly 30 years.

Two years after my parents put it on the market, the sign on the lawn now read SALE PENDING, and my husband and I were there to sift through boxed up items that I may or may not want to keep. An interesting process—digging up childhood memories and then painstakingly choosing which of them are worth keeping evidence of. There’s simply not enough room in one’s basement for an entire life’s worth of sentimental trinkets and mementos, especially not with a baby on the way.

I don’t know what it’s like to move around multiple times throughout your childhood and teenage years. But I do know that when home is one single place for that fundamental time of your life, the physical space becomes so much more than a dwelling. It takes on a life of its own—a permanent fixture that deeply roots itself in your soul, grabbing hold a little bit stronger with each passing day.

For me, up until a year ago, 123 West Street was home. We moved there when I was three years old, and it’s the first house that my memory can recall. A sparkling new cape cod set up on a hill; a mansion in the eyes of a three-year-old. I remember going to see it before we even moved in—standing in the doorway staring into the empty kitchen—the cherry cabinets and the white and grey speckled linoleum floor.

It was almost a blank slate; kind of like I was. And then, year by year, I watched it grow and evolve right along with me. The brick red siding changed to a muted taupe after a damaging hail storm. The front door, once robin’s egg blue, turned to a peachy salmon. The bare backyard sprouted a multi-level deck, and the barren land behind it slowly transformed from dirt paths and tall grass to a grid of houses and connecting streets.

The formal dining room with parquet floors remained empty for a few years while my hardworking parents saved to fill it with furniture that would do it justice. When we first moved in, every morning my father would carry me down the stairs on his shoulders.

OK, now close your eyes, he would say—

—then briskly walk me around the house, stopping suddenly in one place and telling me to guess what room we were in. That empty dining room, always the easiest one for me to call out. Something about the way the morning sun shined in through the bay window—I could feel the warmth on the side of my face, and it seemed brighter than any other room as the light infiltrated my tiny, translucent eyelids. It soon became the central hub for our family gatherings and memories, packed so full of love and life that you could barely squeeze by the table to make it to your seat.


— *at home
2 : in harmony with the surroundings


Saying goodbye was so much harder than I expected it to be. Sure, I had left it behind when I moved out for college, but it was always there for me to return to if I needed familiar ground to feel rooted and secure. Whenever I felt suspended and hanging in the balance of an uncharted future, I always had the key back to that comfort.

But on that final day, the reality knocked me over the head like some stranger in a dark alley putting me out to rob me of my identity. This was actually it—I’d never be able to go back.

I paced the house, sitting on the floor of each room and stared at the bare walls, as if they were screens projecting scenes of my past before my tear-filled eyes.

I was five again, bursting with excitement as I pulled a piece of torn, red-velvet cloth out of the fireplace on Christmas morning—the one that my dad had cleverly deposited there as proof that Santa was real.

I was nine or ten, sprawled out on the teal colored living room rug, watching in awe as the giant colorful balloons moved across the TV screen in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I breathed in deeply the smell of turkey and pumpkin pie, anxiously awaiting the arrival of loved ones.

I was 16, in the dawn of self-discovery, whispering teen girl chatter with friends in my brightly colored, flower-adorned bedroom—clusters of photos and band posters plastered on my walls screaming to anyone who entered, this is me! (though I really had no clue yet).

I was 21, visiting home from college and sitting peacefully on the covered back patio as torrential rain fell down around me. I watched the flashes of lightening and listened to the crashes of thunder, feeling sheltered from this storm, and from the chaos that had become my life.


— *at home
3 : on familiar ground


One of the reasons I fell in love with the house my husband and I purchased together was that it immediately felt familiar the first time we walked in. Maybe it was the fact that it, too, is a cape cod (though older and a little smaller). Or the fact that it had only belonged to one family (for 60+ years) prior—so I understood the ache they were feeling when they had to turn it over to us.

Their real estate agent had told us it was important to them that the home went to a nice, young couple who would raise a family there. And so it did. Now, it’s slowly beginning to take root in our hearts, as our first home as husband and wife and as the first home our daughter will ever know.

I’ve only driven by 123 West Street a handful of times since the day I had to say goodbye. It’s home to a new family now—a family of four that apparently hated the salmon colored door and clearly doesn’t enjoy landscaping upkeep as much as my mother did. But it’s theirs now to make their own, to shelter them in this chapter of their lives and become a part of their own story.

In my farewell post last year, I wrote:

It feels like 2200 square feet of roots and familiarity being ripped out from under me

—and I still feel that void.

It’s gradually filling though. Each new memory and life experience; each month spent in my now home with my husband and baby girl, is a shovel full of dirt piling into that hole in my heart.

The familiar structure of wood and warmth that I left behind will never crumble under the weight of new years, but forever be an anchor that grounds my past.

I will cherish it always.


*–Merriam Webster Dictionary