The Cardinal Second

I should have just waited. I should have been still. These thoughts have been playing on repeat in my head since the moment she flew away.

Have you ever had an experience that held the intensity of a year of wonder punched into a one-second time span? I don’t think I knew it was possible. Most breathtaking moments last long enough for us to savor their birth, bloom, and death – if only it’s just enough time to notice and know. Some we must tear ourselves away from – a waterfall rushing triumphant down a mountain, the Milky Way dripping jeweled in a South Dakota sky – to get back in rhythm with our lives, while their timeless beauty continues suspended.

I have no photograph for the moment of which I am speaking. I tried to take a picture of her, but the motion of my hand startled her away.

It was a few weeks ago in my parents’ driveway. I had pulled up to their house after work for a visit and to take home more of my things they’d been graciously storing in their garage. The morning’s gentle rain had slowed to a drizzle, and the tall shrubs lining the driveway were bristling with water droplets. Then, a soft thud. A female cardinal had landed in the top-right corner of my windshield, apparently after a bug to eat. She looked young and round, and her drenched brown and light red feathers made her look slightly confused and disheveled.

Instinctively, my hand reached for my iPhone, but not just because taking pictures of wildlife is the most thrilling kind of photography for me. You see, over the rough journey I’ve traversed in recent years, cardinals have become a beautiful symbol to me – one of hope, courage, boldness, comfort, and the provisional love of the Father. On various occasions, from the darkest parts of the valley to the golden light of this new bright future, a cardinal has appeared. Seeing them feels like getting a little love note from the Artist of all creation, the One who said, “I know all the birds of the hills, and everything that moves in the field is Mine” (Psalm 50:11). When this little drowned vagabond plopped down right in front of me, I wanted desperately to capture a close-up of the very image of my heart.

She became aware of my presence when my hand moved for the phone. Cardinals are the most skittish birds I’ve observed, extremely vigilant and wary of humans. She saw me through the glass, and she flew away.

I should have just waited and drank that moment to the dregs. I should have been still and let the Artist enrapture me with His precious little masterpiece, painted soft gold and ruby, sent boldly and lovingly, just for me.

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