I sat out back with the newspaper early one summer morning, reading about current events. Most stories dealt with death and destruction. Headlined were such vices as avarice, adultery, casual dishonor—all sins not acknowledged as such, but openly condoned. (Ironically a full-page ad urged parents to encourage their children to read a newspaper every day. To be enlightened? Is that possible with the media blatantly scorning the Commandments?)
There were reports of murder by various means: euthanasia, abortion, mayhem, torture; deaths by drowning, gas, knives, guns, automobiles, electrocution, atomic annihilations—every devilish system known to us fallen angels was unearthed.
Now and then I was distracted by birds landing on our “junk” tray at the edge of the lawn. (Earlier I’d spread a stash of stale bread there.) Bulky, scintillating starlings came, squawking rustily as they crammed scraps down the gaping beaks of their offspring. Tiny chocolate wrens stopped by, then perched in overhanging branches to scold off intruders. Then I’d return to the newspaper, to comics not really funny, satirizing life, whether reflected in a tumultuous household, general lack of principles or contemporary Vikings and other non-heroic figures uncomfortably related to ourselves. The inevitable male bumblers ruled by omniscient blondes were winners, as were eerily successful portrayals of real-life dramas in peanut-sized terms.
I flicked the page. Tragedies on land and sea, disasters in the air and on foreign battlefields. Sadism, racism, school children running amok, babies bearing babies. Dysfunctional families, kidnappings, teacher failures—in classrooms, churches and homes, where it all should begin. In fact, every manner of evil allowed to escape from Pandora’s box from time immemorial to the present day.
Then a trio of large crows flapped in, raucously denouncing my human intrusion. They hooted their displeasure to high heaven and eventually disdained my burnt offerings, beating a hasty retreat. In the ensuing quiet, the pint-sized wrens could again be heard. Delightful chatterboxes by contrast, I noted. A robin chanted a rain-call, “gonna-rain, gonna-rain!” from a maple podium. Never in my life had I heard such a loud, clear continuous robin chorus that was taken up. (They practiced in the early hours and again at twilight, I recalled from more tranquil times, and throughout sun and shadow sang their troubadour hearts out.)
Back to my newspaper, sordid in comparison with nature. How many living trees were destroyed for this single edition, airing on every page the stench of death? A whole section of colorful ads challenged me to covet things I had no need for but was tempted to consider. Want-ads galore. Entertainment lures, mostly R-rated movies and shows. Travel opportunities aimed at delivering the jaded soul, offering a modicum of pleasure. Escape at what cost?
Suddenly I noted, circling the trunk of the nearby maple, a weary grey squirrel splayed out horizontally on the rough bark. He dug in with sharp claws, his tail silently rattling but in tune with his chattering alert. His quest was the pickings on the food tray, but he meant to control his greed till certain I was no threat. He glided and slid around and around, his rodent eyes trained on me as he circled his way down the trunk. And over him in the leaves, bird business went right on. The jays sailed back and forth, followed by their importuning young. The sun reached the rambling roses at the base of the tree. A welcoming breeze fanned their fragrance to me on my lazy couch.
I laid the paper aside, having scanned the birth/death/divorce lists for another day. So little of redeeming value in it, truly, except for extremely brief glimpses of—dare I say—hope? Hope: that last, non-stinging insect released from Pandora’s casket, exemplified, perhaps, in a few low-case items. Like the adoption of wild horses “mercifully” culled. Or a brief about the very poor sharing their very little with even poorer ethnic enemies.
I prepared to go back indoors. But for a few more minutes that glorious morning I lingered to praise God (yes, he still exists) for the wondrous song of a cardinal singing out of the pine tree—red on green like a perennially hopeful Christmas card.
“Pretty bird, pretty bird, pretty bird,” he exulted. It was enough to choke the most rabid cynic’s heart with gratitude. I found myself smiling. How good to feel my facial muscles relax, tensions at bay for the next few hours, at the very least.