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Singing until dawn comes again
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The night seemed unusually warm when I finally got home. A waxing moon had peaked before midnight.  Now it leaned heavy toward the Pacific, bleaching the surrounding fields and leaving ghostly shadows everywhere.

The day had stretched out long and tiresome.  Looking forward to a few hours of uninterrupted sleep, I shouldered my bag and turned toward the stairs.   But suddenly, a song I’d never heard before rose out of nowhere.

There it was.  Perched alone in the silhouette of a solitary tree, a noisy bird was gearing up for some idol contest.   Stringing out a litany of unrelated sounds, this complicated creature seemed to be spoofing every bird that ever tweeted, chirped, or hooted.   Startled, I stood there for fifteen minutes, waiting to see if the sequence would ever repeat.  Sure enough, it did, but only after forty or so completely distinct imitations had all been performed.

“Must be a mockingbird,” I mused, since the lonesome comic appeared to have roasted every foul and feathered thing and farmyard fur-ball it’d ever been able to hear and record.  What other name could possibly make sense?

At that moment, I heard a familiar melody.  It was my cellular phone.  Yes, I would come immediately.  No, I wasn’t far away.  Yes, I’d bring the oils.

So it was that, at 1:15 a.m., I entered the hospital ICU.  From the seclusion of one darkened room came an unexpected greeting: “Fr. Dean!”  Peering in, I vaguely recognized a face from the distant past.  Where had we met before?

At 91, the patient still seemed solidly built, her features chiseled from solid stone, her voice dry and sandy.  She asked, “…Remember me?”

Stationed by her side, I had to confess I didn’t.  She reminded me that I used to visit the convalescent home in which she had begun residing twelve or so years ago.  “You always had your guitar,” she reminisced, referring to those days I celebrated Mass or did some kind of entertainment.  “But everything is different now.  I’ve had to make a very difficult decision.  Father, please tell me if I am right, or not.  I’m afraid I’m doing something terribly wrong.”

One things was certain, she would die
To the extent that privacy laws permit, the doctors had clued me in to her dilemma.  I spent a long time listening to her confirm her previous decision.

Whatever she chose, one thing was certain: she would die.  The questions were only: how soon, how painfully, and how much medical intervention to request. For the same procedures that might prolong her life would also be very likely to cause terrible suffering and force bed rest over the long term.

She was alone. She had no husband, no children, no next of kin, and few to share the cross of her condition.  Her mind was still crystal clear, but her heart was weary with loneliness and with losing everything she ever had.

A distant relative had visited her from time to time, but lived very far away.

Grabbing a marker, I began archiving everything I could on the dry-erase whiteboard.  This would be a symbolic kind of last will and testament.  I’ll call her “K” and will list some of the less sensitive things which she shared.

“Memories and Requests of “K” at 1:30 a.m., Wednesday, March 24, 2010:”

Home: Her father purchased it in 1917.  She lived in that same home both as a child and as an adult, until 15 years ago when she fell and broke her hip.

This led to her extended stay at an area convalescent home.  Without any children or surviving siblings (they had both passed on already), K had no option but to sell the house in which she had lived for nearly 80 years.

Later, the home burnt to the ground.  She believes squatters in the house left an untended fire.  (I wondered whether someone wanted the insurance.)  No trace of the home remains, as it was demolished and then covered over.

Everything and everybody else is gone
Likewise, with mounting medical expenses and the care-home payments, her remaining savings dwindled to nothing.  What few belonging remain are still in her room at the nursing home.  Everything and everybody else is gone.

Among her treasured friends, also now deceased, were her beloved pet dog “Pal”, who’d followed her dad home from work, and her two Pekingese.

Her favorite memory was of receiving First Holy Communion at the Church of St. Gertrude’s eighty-three years ago.  She also treasured that day when, at six, she had been chosen to crown the Virgin’s statue on Mother’s Day.

Providentially, she’d been born on October 7th, Feast of the Holy Rosary.

Her favorite songs were “The Old Rugged Cross” and “In the Garden.”

Her main regret is that she didn’t join her father and his sister on their trip to Italy and Rome, where she’d have hoped to have seen Pope John Paul II.

Her principal desire is that people remember her faithfulness to her father and mother, for whom she had cared.  In fact, her mom had died in her arms.

She concluded by stating the church and funeral home she’d chosen for her services and burial.  Then she begged for just a sip of water: “I’m thirsty.”

Reaching home by 2:45 a.m., I found my new neighbor still singing away.

He - or she - was still pumping out music at dawn, like an all-night D.J.

Returning to the hospital, I re-confirmed with K the decision she’d made.

For some reason, her IV pump had stopped.  She seemed to be dehydrated.

That night, I connected the dots, speculating that the night-singing bird must be created to keep in touch with all God’s birds for some unknown reason.

“In the same way,” I marveled at Mass, “K is bringing together many people in their efforts to care for her and to spare her the agony of abandonment.”

And her agonizing thirst recalled the words of the One who died for us so long ago, when He cried out in vain for the waters of mercy and compassion.

It was He who had said that, in dying, He would draw all people to Himself.

But Friday night, having visited K again and found her increasingly weak - even to the point of silencing that centennial voice - I received new insight during a Mass of Hope and Healing for those who mourn the loss of a baby.

“At first I thought that singer was mocking every bird in North America,” I began.  “Soon I realized that he or she was pentecostal: speaking to every other bird in his or her own native language.  Still, tonight I had yet another inspiration.  What if this bird is singing on behalf of every other bird or living being who no longer has a voice, or who hasn’t yet developed one?

Far from being a mocking-bird, or even a mimicking one, much less an irritating noise-maker, our new friend may well have been busy advocating.

Speaking out, singing loudly on behalf of all the unseen and unheard birds and other sounding creatures with whom he or she had come in contact, my new friend was carrying their tune under the nearly-full moon throughout the dark and lonely night.  While they slept, or hid, or were hatching forth, or even lying in the slumber of death, this mockingbird held them all in his or her prayers, echoing loyally their own unique melodies, raising them up.

I sensed she was drawing near the threshold
Saturday night, my beloved advocate sang more passionately than ever.  I’d lost contact with K - she’d been moved back to the convalescent home - but I sensed in my bones that she was drawing near the threshold.  How I wished I could track her down and pay a visit, but both Saturday and Sunday were extremely busy days, being the weekend of Palm Sunday and a period of so many other activities in our larger community.  “Tell her I’ll come see her on Monday,” I asked the advocate.  Meanwhile, we prayed for her at Mass.

Sunday night, I returned home exhausted.  I’d barely made it through the weekend, especially considering how sick I’d been the entire week before.

Stepping out of my vehicle with the nearly-full moon looming overhead, I stretched out to catch the now-familiar litany. Waiting a while, I turned around, trying to tune into a higher frequency.  There was no symphony. My nighttime companion had gone on to sing on behalf of other birds, in other places, to new and different audiences.  I knew immediately that K was dead.

Sure enough, my intentions to visit Monday were frustrated, because she passed away Sunday night at 9 p.m.  I never heard about her since.  All I could gather from the nursing home was that yes, indeed, she was no more.

Today, as I write this reflection, is Good Friday.  We have spent the day singing the songs of the generations.  From the day Jesus Christ mounted the wood of that solitary tree on the hill called Calvary, from that afternoon when he sang his melodies of love and mercy for a people whose voices he himself had created (as the Eternal Word in harmony from the beginning with God the Father), from that hour when he poured out the music of God’s forgiveness and compassion upon the darkened desert of this world, and from the moment when he at last cried “I thirst!” in his burning desire to be reunited with the souls to whom he had given birth, the opera of Christ’s unwavering zeal for our salvation plays on.  He is, as John puts it (I Jn 2:1), our advocate in heaven, constantly pleading on our behalf to God the Father.

Through Pentecost he speaks through his Church in countless languages to a lost humanity.  He who in heaven possessed all the fullness of the Divinity gave it all up in a lover’s serenade.  And then he emptied himself further:

“…Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God something to be grasped at.  Rather, he emptied himself, and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:6-8).  Having been raised from the dead triumphant, he once again humbled himself to live and serve though his Church, to anoint his disciples to carry on his mission, and to confide his own Body and Blood into the hands of sinners, that we might become more like him.  Through this process, we who are incorporated in Christ through faith and baptism become his ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20).  From now on we live, not for ourselves, but for “the message of reconciliation” which Jesus has entrusted to us.  Like that vigilant bird, we are meant to proclaim the Good News in every language, yet also to speak out boldly on behalf of those whose voices need to be heeded, in order that every melody be heard.