Sunday, February 14, 2010

Led By Cardinals: Reality or Illusions?

One step at a time beginning with the first one and continuing all the way to the top step (18 steps in all) a male cardinal preceded me as I climbed the front steps at the entrance of Raleigh's Dorothea Dix Hospital on August 19, 2008, my first full day on the job as Attending Psychiatrist of the Adult Long-term Female Unit. After reaching the upper landing, the cardinal flew to the nearby railing and then to an adjacent bush. Prior to encountering the cardinal, I had walked from the parking lot; and as I walked, I had prayed the same prayer I described in a previous posting on prayer, magical thinking or a transforming shift in consciousness? This is the prayer: "Dear God. If it be your will, please increase the beneficial energy associated with my being and completely transform the detrimental energy into beneficial energy. And Dear God, if it be your will, please adjust the frequencies of all the energy systems known and unknown to me so that the highest and best for all concerned may be the result. And Dear God, if it be your will, please help me to be an instrument of your peace today. In deep gratitude, I pray." Having this cardinal precede me up the steps seemed like a sign to me that I was being called by a force greater than I to some special task or purpose. But what would cause me to think this way?

Well, in the winter of 2003 my wife Libba and I were sitting in our living room meditating when we heard a knocking sound. It was early in the morning, and we at first couldn't imagine what might be causing the sound which seemed to be coming from a north-side window not far from where we were sitting. I got up to investigate and saw a bright red, male, Northern Cardinal repeatedly flying feet-first against the glass of the window. He would hit the window, return to a nearby tree and then do it all over again. I was immediately reminded of a conversation I had years earlier with an old friend, Sister Alice, who was a nun and biology professor. She struck me as a wise woman, and one day in one of our many discussions that happened during her sabbatical that brought her to UNC for a semester, she told me that whenever she saw a cardinal, her first thought was of God. Since then, whenever I've seen a cardinal, I've thought of God and said a prayer of gratitude for the beauty of cardinals, for the opportunity to live, love, and learn, and for the love of God that I imagined was always present everywhere for each of us and for all of creation.

The cardinal that knocked on our window that morning (or one that looked like him) continued to knock on a window every day for about three years. After awhile, if I walked over and said, "Good morning," he would fly off only to return the next day. It seemed that if we were on the middle level of our house, he would come to a window on that level; and if we we were in the basement, he would come to a basement window. On one occasion while I was sitting in my office up the hill from our house, he knocked on the window just adjacent to my chair. On another occasion, he knocked on the glass of a door to our deck and then sat on the top of a rocking chair on the deck. I went over to say, "Good morning," and he flew to the deck rail as his mate took his place on the top of the deck chair. I then said to her while holding her gaze, "Good morning!" We each held the gaze of the other for about 10 minutes. At that point, I had to do something else and walked away; and she flew from her perch.

It seemed to me that perhaps the cardinals were trying to say something to me, perhaps to remind me that I have a connection to all of the entire Universe and that my small contribution to Tikkun Olam is important. I, of course, don't know for sure why they came with such regularity that lasted for so long until one day they stopped. After that, about once a week for many months, as I neared home in my car, a male cardinal would fly across my path. This same kind of flight across my path still occurs from time to time, and I always feel comforted somehow when it happens.

In the spring of 2008 while in an Atlanta hotel room and working to complete the last of the preparations for the hiking I was about to begin with my son Mark on the Appalachian Trail, there was a knocking at my window. I pulled back the curtain to find a male cardinal sitting on the ledge. I took it to be a blessing of my impending Appalachian Trail adventure. The picture to the right was taken of that cardinal that day.

So what do you think? Was there a connection between seeing these cardinals and anything going on in my life? Were they present to inspire me, or was I inspired by their presence because I needed inspiration and imagined their presence to be meant for me? I don't think I can know the answer to these questions with absolute certainty, and different parts of me are inclined to answer differently. What has definitely happened, however, is that I was hired at Dorothea Dix to help for only 60 days with the transition of the patients on my unit (scheduled to be transferred to Central Regional Hospital, Butner, NC); and 18 months later, our patients (the ones we haven't discharged) and I are still there. Today is the second anniversary of closing my private psychiatric practice of 25 years. Tomorrow, February 15, 2010, Central Regional Hospital, Raleigh Campus, returns to being a separate facility known again as Dorothea Dix Hospital, a name associated for more than 150 years with providing the best treatment available for the mentally ill citizens of North Carolina (please see Haven on the Hill: The History of North Carolina's Dorothea Dix Hospital by Marjorie O'Rorke). I also know that during my time on Dix Hill I have had the privilege of working with some wonderful folks (staff members and patients) who have changed my life forever and for whom in some cases, perhaps, I have been an important healing influence. In any case, I have experienced my time there as a blessing for which I am very grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Since last year, I have these same birds, knocking on my window. I was just starting researching, because it's happening again this year, and I found this posting, very impressive. If is God who wants to tell me something, I don't know. The only thing that changed in my life last year was that I got divorced from a 20 years marriage. :-( O well, it hopefully it is probably a positive thing.


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