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Not long ago, I was leaving the house in the morning to meet some appointments and run a few errands.  As I opened the door, I noticed a mourning dove walking around on our front porch.  They've been known to nest in my hanging ferns or elsewhere on the porch, which can be somewhat of a nuisance, so I walked toward the bird, waving my arms, to shoo it away.  The bird just looked at me and walked backward into a corner of the porch.  I wondered if this bird might be injured.  But I just didn't have the time to try and figure that out.  So I headed off to meet my schedule.

 

When I returned home later that afternoon, I noticed the dove was still on the porch.  I tried again to shoo the bird away, and still it just looked at me, walking around the porch.  At this point, I was convinced the thing was injured --since I'd yet to see it flap its wings-- and I pondered what my next step should be.  Our neighborhood is home to numerous cats, and I really didn't want this injured dove to be Bully Cat's next meal.  (My husband and I named a neighborhood cat Bully Cat... a rough looking short-haired tabby with fat round face, a nub for a tail, who would boldly and aggressively saunter onto our porch and eat our pet cat's food.  Although we've not seen much of Bully Cat on our porch since our pet died, I figured an injured bird was just the thing to prompt his unwelcome return to our turf.)

 

I called my husband at work to seek his opinion on how I should handle this situation.  You see, I didn't inherit my grandmother's keen sense of how to retrieve and nurse injured birds, and I confess, I was a bit squeamish.  But what I learned when I called David caught me by surprise.  He told me that early that morning when he went out to snag the paper from the walkway, he noticed a dead dove on the sidewalk near the street.  He had scooped it up into a bag and disposed of it before Bully Cat could alert his band of neighborhood cat thugs.

 

It was at this point that I recalled that mourning doves mate for life.  True, their life expectancy certainly can't compare to our life expectancies, but, nonetheless, they are monogamous creatures like we.  And the pieces of the puzzle fell into place.  I believe that this mourning dove was in mourning.  It was grieving the loss of its mate, and it stood vigil on our porch, near the spot of its beloved's death.

 

Several folks who are dear to me, have experienced grief-causing events over the last few months.... the death of a mother; the end of a marriage; the disillusionment with a job; the selfishness of a sibling; the relocation from a familiar home and church to a new and unknown town; the miscarriage of a child; the failing mind and health of a parent.  And for the bulk of us, we probably only think of death as being a reason to grieve.  But this couldn't be farther from the truth.

 

I believe it was the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard who said something to the effect that what we grieve is not so much the past we lost, but the future that will not be.  Anytime we lose our assumed future, we experience grief. 

 

And, contrary to public opinion, there is no one way to grieve, no time table on grieving, no exclusive list of happenings suitable for grieving.  Those who have extensively studied grief have come to recognize a handful of stages or steps that a grieving person will experience.  But the time it takes to get through the stages, the order in which the stages come, the general sense of progression through the grieving process... all of these things are as individual and unique as there are the number of folks experiencing grief.

 

Now, while I don't know if mourning doves go through grief stages as humans do, I felt badly that I'd tried to shoo this bird away.  I had, in my attempt to "save" the bird, misinterpreted its needs.  I was blinded to its grieving and wanted it simply to move on with its life, and get off of my porch.

 

As we find ourselves here, in the midst of holiday hooplah and festive fanfare, let us not forget that special occasions can, for some, serve to highlight that "future that will not be" and may bring up the emotions and behaviors that accompany happenings not fully grieved in ourselves, in those we love, in those we barely know.  Some of the symptoms of ungrieved grief are bitterness and anger.  As we hurry our way through our holiday schedules, I pray we take time to observe one another, to listen and minister and tend to one another, to pray for one another, and to be patient with one another in those things we don't understand, lest we misinterpret the significance of what we have been privileged to witness.

 

Grace and peace to you as you journey.

Yours in Christ,  

~~Jennifer

12/01/06

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