I stood in my office looking out the large north facing window. Under the row of pine trees, small birds bounced around, shuffling through the leaves, looking for something to eat. These weren’t the ubiquitous sparrows, nor the numerous finches, not even my favorite black capped chickadee. These birds were rounder, with darker heads and white bellies. Juncos. The Dark-eyed Juncos are winter birds in South Dakota. The seasons had changed. The darkness of winter was coming quickly. As the days shortened, the juncos ushered in the cold and the shadows. I stood staring out that window at the group of chubby juncos with silent tears streaming down my face.
Seeing them, I could no longer deny the passage of time. From January through summer we watched the days lengthen, until summer breezes turn to chilly autumn winds, and in the blink of an eye the hours of daylight dwindled. The leaves changed, work campaigns ended, and the juncos arrived. The world seemed to be constantly changing, evolving even, and here I was, just the same as always. Still fat, still a chatterbox, still worrying about my dad too much, still Auntie Carla to the ever increasing children of siblings and best friends, and still childless. The days and months and years seem to both crawl and fly by in some twisted joke of the universe. For the first quarter of our lives we’re always desiring to be older, to get to the next step, until somewhere in your late twenties you realize you want to stop time- you want an extension on this assignment called adulthood.
Recently I told my therapist that I was an exceptional student in high school and college, and now I was an exceptionally mediocre adult. I laughed, and she asked by who’s standards. I promptly replied, society’s. I know my worth does not lie in what I produce or own, and honestly that’s not the part that really bothers me. As I plummet ever faster towards middle age, I’m still trying to achieve the title that so many have accidentally earned: Mother. So the arrival of the juncos, and the impending winter and dreadful holiday season only reminds that time keeps passing, and I keep waiting with empty arms.
I found myself admonishing myself that the Junco’s round, feathered bodies happily hopping around the base of the evergreens should have brought me joy; they should not have added to the heaviness weighing on my heart. But their presence reminded me of all the death and darkness that winter brings. These small, dark colored birds seemed to taunt my weary soul, when in previous years I loved both identifying them and observing their pleasant hops. But, it wasn’t just the season change. It was this particular October. This year, I also fear that infertility is robbing me of my longest friendship. After 10 years of stealing so much from me, I was shocked to find it might steal one thing that I never thought was endangered.
Isn’t that how life goes? When we believe that something is solid, it surprises us with its ability to rot and decay; to crumble and fall apart. But everything in this life is temporary, on a long enough timeline, every earthly thing ends. I was hoping this one would last at least another 25 years.
springing forth from the decay, hope that no matter how long the night, His joy comes with the morning. As cold as the Dakotas are in the winter, this is where many Juncos choose to nest when they leave Canada and Alaska. It goes to show you that perspective is powerful, while winter in the South Dakota feels almost unbearable with is short days and subzero wind chills, to these round northern birds, it’s a lovely climate compared to the literal tundra of northern Canada. Just like this terrain is only the junco's temporary home, this earthly realm is only our temporary residence. But just as the juncos still must negotiate this slightly warmer landscape and strive for food, shelter, and survival, we are tasked with experiencing the fullness of life this side of heaven. And that fullness doesn’t come without strife and pain.
You can tell me that I will meet my miscarried child in heaven and think your hope-filled message is neat, tidy, and unproblematic, but I still have to grapple with the grief of never seeing that child’s face here on earth. Jesus promised us that He would be with us, until the very end of the days, Hem also promised us that in this life we would have trouble. We would have death and darkness. Why are we so uncomfortable living in the tension of both eternal hope and the reality of earthly decay. Why do we not allow ourselves to both revel and grieve in the passing of time, marked by the arrival of the juncos?