July is the month we say goodbye to some regular writers who have aged out or are moving on to other projects. We’re extra thankful for Jack today—he’s been writing with us since August 2016.

On Sunday morning, I found a young robin on the upstairs porch of my building.

Down still puffed out at odd angles from its scruffy feathers—perhaps too young to have left the nest, but too old to return. I stepped closer to get a look and it leapt from the balcony, flapping frantically as it fell to the pavement below.

As I rushed over to see if it was all right, the bird was already hopping back up the stairs. When it reached the landing, it made its way to the edge, gave me a meaningful glare, and leapt off again.

In my hasty analysis, I thought the bird needed my help. But I was wrong—it was learning something I could never teach: to fly.

The bird’s only goal of survival hinged on learning something wordlessly. But it’s not enough to say the bird was gaining a new skill. It had to learn how to become a fundamentally different kind of creature,  untethered from the ground. Following instinct with passion, the bird was learning to be itself.

I decided to walk my earthbound clogs to my car and drove off, sheepishly wondering how often I’ve tried to teach birds how to fly.

I continued on to my grandmother’s place to pick her up for church, as I’ve done since my grandfather died. As we left for church, she apologized for moving so slowly—just like every week. I reassured her we were in no rush—just like every week.

But this week, she said something new. She told me that she didn’t want to sing that week in church, because she had just gotten new hearing aids that made her voice sound strange. I told her she had done plenty of singing and didn’t need to sing unless she wanted.

Inside, I knew she wanted to sing so badly. Her hearing had been declining for years, making it very difficult to sing perfectly in-tune or on-time. But she still sang.

Now, as we stood for the first hymn of the service and voices raised for the opening line, something else happened. With the new hearing aids, she heard more. For the first time in years, she could hear the richness of the music. She could hear the voices around her. Instead of hiding, she sang in full.

Her voice was not strong. But it was powerful in softness, clear in tone. After dozens of services hearing her struggle with melody, she sang in perfect harmony.

It broke me like water breaks rock.

I am lying in bed now, thinking about that day over and over. Trying to tease out some meaning from what I saw and heard.

I keep seeing the hungry, fearful eyes of that robin in my mind. I know I couldn’t have, but I wish I had held it. I wish I could have brushed away its molting feathers and gently covered its trembling frame.

As my mind falls to sleep, I see the robin nested in my palm. I hold it close and whisper the same words I felt when my grandmother sang:

“Hush, little bird. Rest your wings, you will fly tomorrow. Remember there is more at work in life than you will ever know.”

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