My child, nearest one to my heart;
Beloved, the one I never knew.
Your name is Nightingale –
Your name is Dove.
I saw you in stillness.
Your eyes were closed, bruises spread and spent
You were tired, so tired, my love.
You were silent
But you were still singing
Where small feathers flutter, small beaks peck –
Quick small movements amid small twig nests.
Today You ask for pieces I don’t have,
In the rustling of bushes and the flowering of trees.
Today You ask for pieces I can’t give,
In the pecking of crumbs and the storming rains.
In the city streets and gates, in the city walls and windows,
I leave a trail, though it’s swept away.
Breadcrumbs to birds, and wisdom of the broken for my Beloved.
Sometime between 2001 and 2008, the New York Times ran a story, and I acquired a ghost.
I don’t know if this ghost haunts anyone else. I don’t remember his name or his country. Here is what I remember.
He lived in an occupied city. He kept a small shop of nightingales, and spent all his time in his shop with his birds.
The neighbors said he was quiet, absent-minded, gentle. One girl remembered him caring for his nightingales each day. She said he talked to them as he cleaned and watered and fed them.
He happened to be on the wrong side of some line of rage, in a city full of pain and soldiers and more pain. Someone decided his life was worth more as a message. A group of people beat him to death.
I remember the small grey picture of his face. He didn’t look dead, exactly. He looked infinitely tired. His eyes were closed with the sad innocence you sometimes see on the faces of sleeping children.
My friends. What shall I say?
For some things words are useless. For some pain, there is no cure. But I can’t be silent. The wisdom of the weak is only news once they’re broken beyond repair. So here are the two things I say, though they may not be right.
First, everyone is called to be strong. Your strength may surprise you, if only for a second. Sometimes a second is enough.
Second, everyone is called to be weak, broken, tired, maimed. This isn’t the truth anyone wants to hear. But strength alone is an isolating experience. Weakness is a chance to learn others’ lives and needs. Weakness is a chance to learn wisdom, the kind that wells up and heals.
I have more experience in weakness than in strength. Life usually only needs strength once, but it always needs wisdom. I don’t yet have wisdom. But I have a ghost; I have a pocket full of crumbs for the daytime sparrows who flutter and beg; and somewhere in the night, nightingales are singing.
Special thanks to Havoc of IHaveKungFuPhotography.com for the featured image.