Sixteen years ago, my wife and I, after years of renting and months of looking, finally decided on the house that we would call our home. We bought a two-story house right in the heart of Charlotte, but the 1950’s neighborhood, full of mature trees, seemed far removed from the rest of the city. That was one of the selling points for us. I remember well our initial visits to look at the house. I remember sitting on the back steps and just marveling how there was no city life to be heard. There were only the birds singing cheerfully. It would be a great place to raise a family.
Six months after we bought the house, we welcomed our first child, a beautiful baby girl. Three years after that, a boy. Three years after that, another boy. Our home all these years has been full of life and full of memories.
But these years are passing too quickly, and, as it is with families, we are more busy than ever. Sadly, long gone are the times when one of my children would hand me a toy phone to answer, and, sadder still, when they do call for my attention in other ways now, I find reasons to put them off. Work and the outside world intrude far too often.
Honestly, I worry I’m just too busy to make new memories.
In just two short years our oldest will go away to college. It will no doubt seem then, as one of my good friends said to me recently, that one of life’s great purposes, raising children, will be slipping away.
I worry that with it will go any more chances for making memories with them.
Which brings me back to the birds.
Our backyard remains as full of them as the day we bought our house. Carolina chickadees. Eastern towhees. Cardinals. Robins. Ruby-throated hummingbirds. Blue jays. Blue birds. Bard owls. There are so many more, I know, but these are the ones my family and I identify easily.
These and the Carolina wrens. Carolina wrens, it seems, love to make their homes in old buildings and other man-made structures, in garages, carports, and in toolsheds. Earlier this year, two especially cheerful wrens made their home high on a shelf in the toolshed just inside our carport. An old, broken pet door allowed them easy entry, and there, above the lawnmower and our kids’ old bikes, above the Pinewood Derby supply box filled from years of Cub Scouts, and above the cans of extra paint from our bedrooms, they made a safe space for their little ones to come. Our home welcomed them, just as it did for us when my wife and I moved here sixteen years ago with the first of our own little ones on her way.
We welcomed these wrens, too. Any time I went inside to grab a tool or to put the kids’ outside toys away, one of them always flew near. They both chirped excitedly. I can’t be sure that they were ever happy to see me; they were probably terrified. Yet I always said hello, and I tried to reassure them that they were welcome to stay as long as they wanted.
But one night recently, as I returned from work tired from the day and ready to change and unwind, my daughter, our oldest, greeted me in the driveway with solemn expression. I could tell that something had moved her.
“I have to show you something,” she said, leading me by the hand to the toolshed. Inside, in the narrow space between the blinds and the toolshed window, one of the wrens had become trapped and died. The other wren was nowhere to be found. There were no little ones in the nest. If they had ever been there, they must have grown and moved away. I had somehow missed those times, too.
The toolshed was quiet.
My easiest action at that moment was to tell my daughter that I would take care of this, but later. First, I could go inside and begin the transition from work to home. In that routine I could take the same steps I’d taken the night before. The same steps I’d taken the night before that. And the same steps I’d taken on hundreds of after-work nights before that.
Except I didn’t.
“Would you like for us to bury it?” I asked her.
She, who loves every living creature, answered quietly, but with a voice sure of her decision.
And so I took the shovel and set to work. Distracted from my normal course, and still in my suit and tie from the day, I dug.
This is something different, I thought during the process. It’s something sacred. A memory, perhaps. One that she and I may remember forever.
I should be more open to these chances.
I know I cannot stop the passing time, and I must be more open to being distracted.
Or else the time will take with it so many memories that will never be made.
And that night, by the viburnum at the end of our driveway, we laid a beautiful little bird to rest.
There was no eulogy; there was just our moment of silence.
There was a first-born child, a marvelous young woman now.
And there was a father, grateful to have answered his little girl's call.