I saw the book’s cover first—a high flock of birds soaring, silhouetted against a robin’s egg sky. The title spanned the same skyscape, immediately attracting me to the memoir Bless the Birds: Living with Love in a Time of Dying.
Then I learned that author Susan Tweit, a plant ecologist and naturalist, thrives on long, often solitary forays into unpeopled lands for regular doses of Vitamin N—her label for the nature that revitalizes and fuels her.
Of course, I could relate.
And since, as I write this, doctors are infusing a dear, long-time friend with trial drugs to treat her own advancing glioblastoma, the author’s courageous love through the long storm of her husband’s brain cancer held powerful immediacy for me.
So I wrote her and asked for an advance copy to review prior to the book’s April launch. When it arrived, here’s what I found:
The book opens gently, as Susan and her husband Richard embark on what will be their last road trip:
“. . . a belated honeymoon journey because our time together was short. Because we were determined to live every moment. Scanning Richard’s face, I was searching for grace, which to me is the ability to embrace life with a combination of balance, harmony and beauty. The ability to be present, heart open, even in—especially in—the moments when our hearts want to flinch, freeze, or turn away. When all seems lost: the wounded bird dies in our hands; the strayed child is not found safe and sound; the light of life on this animate planet flickers, as if to fade out.”
From there, she carries readers into scenes that are raw, intimate, and detailed, with pacing that’s important to a story like this. Kairos and chronos time overlap, leaping and lingering between memory and the immediate, between beautiful interludes and aching tedium and loss.
Susan holds nothing back. Her Richard is losing his stellar, loving mind—one surgery, one round of chemo, one round of radiation at a time. In painful, graphic exchanges, the once red-headed author hurls curses as she collides with her beloved husband’s decline, her own limitations, and their inability to change the ultimate course of the disease. In the same stretch of time, she loses her mother. Her grief and anger and exhaustion are palpable.
But there’s much more to the narrative than that.
Before I explain, you must know that I have developed a long practice of watching for God’s kindness and care in a world broken by all kinds of death. I spend significant time spotting his sweet gifts to those who trust Him, those who don’t, and those who are uncertain about Him. Looking for ways his principles and design can equip all of humankind to deal with adversity and loss here in this world, should people choose to embrace them.
And embrace them Susan does. While this is not the memoir of a Christ-follower coming to terms with eternal life, Susan and Richard, with her Quaker and his Buddhist practices, employ what I recognize as God’s common grace, available to us all. Throughout the dying, they commit to loving well. They choose gratitude and other-centeredness, cherishing family, friends, and each other. They live together attentively. Listen fully. They seek out nature’s winsome beauty in birds and animals, landscapes and stone. With awe, they value the universe and its inhabitants, and the science that explains how it all functions.
As they do, they make their final season together as meaningful as they humanly can—in the world Richard leaves all too soon.
And, gathered here, are other posts from earlier this week:
Cat’s Claw Moon.
“Then Jonathan said to him, ‘Tomorrow is the new moon. . . ‘”
—1 Samuel 20:18
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened . . .”
This morning. Grateful.
And this . . .
But I say, love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven.
Thanks for stopping by, friends. So glad you’re here.
Watching Nature, Seeing Life: Through His Creation, God Speaks.