Thomas stood at the window and watched the hummingbird dart frantically from each side of the feeder. There were five other mature birds sipping the red nectar and the young one seemed to be bobbing for the chance to savor the juice. Thomas’ eyes focused on the blur of the wings. “How did they move so fast?” he wondered. His brothers were talking seriously in the background and their voices began to blur similarly to the movement of the fluttering wings. He had the sudden urge to leave the kitchen and followed his wandering feet to the bird feeder.
An attraction lured him to get a more personal look at the small hummingbird. The scent of a fading rose bush brushed against his nostrils through the mid-September breeze. A neighbor was cutting the grass and he welcomed the droning hum of the mower over his brothers’ conversation. He sighed a releasing breath and realized that the winged creatures hadn’t noticed he was merely a foot away.
He was suddenly struck with a strong desire to witness the impossible. He never had an encounter longer than a fleeting moment with the species, but somehow thought he could earn the hummingbird’s trust. He let out another long sigh and instinctually extended his right index finger toward the feeder. He didn’t have a plan. He was just completely aware of the present moment. It’s as if the only thing that had ever existed was this moment with six fluttering birds. He didn’t care how long it would take to make the connection; he only took comfort in his stillness.
He closed his eyes and exhaled. He assumed the wispy movement on his finger was his own breath. When he opened his eyes, the young hummingbird was perched on his finger. The stillness of the wings alluded to the moment.
After a second, Thomas decided to take a step. The bird remained in his care. Within a few more steps, he was in his truck, driving to meet her. The bird zipped around the truck like the thoughts in Thomas’ head. He tried to focus on the small miracle that occurred and hoped it was a sign of what was to come.
Twenty minutes later he pulled into the parking garage. He opened the door as the young bird flew out and circled above him before returning to his finger. Thomas thought about how much she would adore the innocent gesture as he passed by the “Lourdes Hospital” sign. He ignored the gasping nurses as he walked down the hall and instead directed his memory to afternoon coffee breaks at the kitchen table next to the bay window overlooking the bird feeder. It was one of her favorite things to do.
He opened the door to Room 308 and saw her laying in the same position she had been in for the past week.
“Mom,” he said softly, hoping that this time there would be a sign that she heard him. He longed to see her dazzling blue eyes open. The doctors had given her no more than two weeks to live once they discovered her cancer had spread. Within two days of the diagnosis, she slipped into a coma. His bubbly, caring mother had just fallen asleep and showed no signs of waking from her slumber.
“Mom, I brought something to show you.” His voice was hopeful, and he continued as if she were listening. “I saw this little guy hanging out at the house and thought you would want to see him. Look, Mom.”
There was only stillness.
A tear fell down Thomas’ cheek as the little bird turned its head toward the human’s emotion. The sound of the monitors kept a steady rhythm as Thomas cried silently. The hummingbird stayed perched on his finger and seemed to look between the mother and her son. A memory surged of the two playing spades one afternoon and he remembered a song she had sung.
Thomas found himself singing it aloud,
“Why do birds suddenly appear? Every time you are near.
Just like me, they long to be close to you.”
At that line, he nearly broke. Thomas sucked in a silent sob as a smile crossed his face.
“I don’t think those nurses have ever seen someone walk into the hospital with a hummingbird on their finger,” he started to chuckle. “You should have seen their faces!” Suddenly he was laughing heartily. “I’m sure they’ll be talking about this for a while.” He let out one final laugh, then became a little more somber.
“Mom, thanks for always allowing me to be myself,” Thomas said as he squeezed her hand. With that, he looked at the little bird and said, “I better let you go.”
He walked through the halls toward the exit and again heard gusts of shock. He opened the heavy door and was standing on a breezeway that connected the hospital with the parking garage.
“Well, little buddy, this is where we part,” he said looking at the hummingbird. “I’m glad we were able to share this moment. You’ve got some purpose in this world and I’ll never forget it. Go now and be free.”
Thomas extended his hand in a careful gesture and the hummingbird flew away without hesitation.
A gentle breeze seemed to caress Thomas’ arm, which comforted him. He tried to grasp what it felt like to be free. Although his mind was grappling with a concept he may never understand, he unconsciously sang the words,
“Just like me they long to be close to you.”
By Elise Peltier Boutin
Dedicated to Maw on what would have been your 76th birthday.
We miss you terribly, but pass on your love to all those around us.