Follow the Cardinal

It’s colder than Narnia out there, y’all.

I’m looking out the back window at the small patches of snow hiding in the shadows of my backyard when down from the bony trees, a bright, red cardinal descends. He lands in the damp leaves and hops about, cocking his head side to side. He bounces with authority—as if he knows precisely where he’s going on this cold day. I scramble to find my camera but manage only to snap a few, blurry photos of a red smudge. I wonder if he’s leading me to something like the robin leading Mary to her Secret Garden? I decide to bundle myself and go out to follow the bird.

Last week, I started re-reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett for the first time since I was in middle school. I remember, as a pre-teen, enjoying the book, although my memory did not retain many of the small, magical details and the deeply, profound metaphors for the essence of life that this time around, are grabbing at my soul. Taking risks, for example…making somethings out of nothings…the recognition of the good in the world no matter what and so much more. Perhaps it’s because life has a different meaning as an adult then it did when I was in middle school, but this time ‘round, I simply cannot keep from crying as I read it. In a peculiar way, I almost feel as if I have more wonder and curiosity about the world now than I did when I was a young girl.

This is on the coattails of something that happened while I was in Houston visiting my family for the holidays that’s been causing an itch in my head like poison ivy on the brain and this happening, coincidentally enough, also involved middle-school me.

My father found an old box of family videos and managed to get his hands on a working VCR so that all of us (as a family who is rarely together these days) could watch a few of them. Of the overflowing box, we picked at random and after rewinding the tape, we found ourselves watching a video of my family at some park when I was around the age of 11 or 12. It was spring and the bluebonnets were blooming which, as is tradition in many Texas households, sent our family on a roadtrip to the Texas hill country to take pictures in the rolling, blue flowers.

I’d not seen this video since it was filmed and to see myself on the poorly tracked tape literally took my breath away. I was taken aback because as most girls/women living in the times we do now, I was so heavily critical of my looks and abilities (and if you’ve kept up with my blogs, you know that I deal with a good amount of residual confidence issues as an adult). To my now, grown eyes, I was astonished with what a pretty, pretty girl I was back then with my long, wavy brown hair and wide, blue eyes. My legs were longer than most middle-schoolers and I frolicked through the tall grass with much more grace than I ever remembered having. I actually remember being self-conscious with how clumsy I thought I was and how masculine I felt being so tall and strong and being a girl with only two brothers.

I watched myself on the screen, smiling my crooked smile and wearing clothes that fit me awkwardly (like every preteen does) and I choked back tears because I remembered being that girl and hating myself so much. I never fit in with anyone or anything and quickly gave up on trying. I built walls and hid behind them, refusing to believe that any part of me was any good or worth any self-respect. I retreated to living in my own mind where I could ponder on things and imagine what things must feel like out there. From the chair in my folks’ living room watching her there, I wanted to jump through the screen and hug her neck and tell her that she is so beautiful and that there’s a blossoming world around her that is far greater and more powerful than any insecurities—it’s a world for everyone.

Like Colin in The Secret Garden, I had no idea of my own strength and abilities for so long, only it was because of my own insecurities, not a staff of enablers. I sat in my mind, scared and lonely and bitter in so many ways, and although I didn’t have a Mary to find me weeping in my room, I did eventually make it outside to see what was growing. I finally went outside as an adult which is why I suppose I find myself searching for magic and meaning and little cracks in the surface so much these days.

I was glad to watch the videos but also so surprised at what I saw. I’m not even sure what I’m getting at by typing all of this out except to say that whether it be going outside the house or going outside our own minds, it’s limitless what you’ll find out there. The world is a beautiful place of wonder and growing and kisses from the sun and we should go out there every day so that we may live forever and ever. That young, frolicking girl in the grainy video at my folk’s house had no idea how beautiful she was and no idea that the world was reaching for her and yearning for her touch. At the same time, she didn’t realize how much she missed the warmth of the sun by living behind her own walls. Now that she’s been out there though, the opportunities are endless and the ground is aching to be tilled so that its flowers may bloom.

The cardinal bounces around several feet away from me before flapping away into the trees. Instead of a buried key, perhaps this is exactly what he wanted me to find—the realization that age has no impact on your ability to wonder. Time has no impact on how you can love yourself. Walls can be broken. And that no matter how cold or seemingly dead the world is, there is magic happening beneath the soil. Time and TLC will help it grow.

Afterall, if you look the right way, you can see that the whole world is a garden.
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2 thoughts on “Follow the Cardinal

  1. Pat Azlin

    I admire your courage to look into your soul and share that unique view with us. It looks very like my own self as I grew up feeling quite ugly and later seeing pictures that I was quite normal after all. I just saw the movie “Secret Garden” a few evenings ago, and was overwhelmed by the search for inner strength and wonder. How nice of you to write about this!

    Liked by 1 person

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