lenten journal: connected by wires


One of the joys of living in the South is a big front porch, and one of the traditions of our porch is we populate it with Boston ferns every Spring, leaving them up until well into the fall (or winter) until they make our place look a little like Boo Radley’s house. A week or two after the ferns are hung, a bird manages to build a nest — usually in the one second from the left, if you’re standing at the front door facing the yard, which means that fern doesn’t get watered as well and we often have to replace it.

This year, our hanging Christmas lights stayed on the hooks where the ferns go until today. Since outlets are few on the front porch, hanging the seven large lighted balls around the porch requires several extension cords, lots of hooks, and a fair amount of ingenuity. Yesterday, Ginger noticed that, in lieu of a fern, the birds had built their nest on top of a bunch of wires up in the corner of the porch ceiling. When I started taking the lights down today, she asked if the nest would be alright. I was careful, gentle. The wires I needed to move came out easily and the nest seemed to be back in place. I put the lights back in their boxes and the boxes back in the basement, hung the ferns, and went on with my day.

Soon after we got home from our Maundy Thursday service at church, a choir of sirens began singing through our downtown neighborhood. We went out on the porch to see what was going on since about six police cars were within sight and learned there had been a carjacking attempt a couple of blocks away and the police were in pursuit of a suspect. While we were on the porch, Ella, our oldest Schnauzer, noticed the nest had fallen and the little newly hatched babies were scattered across the floor in that corner of the porch. When we realized what she was picking up, we did our best to stop her. She was puzzled, because she didn’t know what she had stumbled upon, and I was troubled because I had moved the wires. It was my fault.

As I was reading the Writer’s Almanac earlier today, I noticed today marks Thornton WIlder’s birthday. Though he’s probably best known for Our Town, one of my favorites is a small book called The Bridge of San Luis Rey. Here’s how Booklist describes the novel:

Few novels identify their basic plot line as succinctly and forthrightly as the opening line of Thornton Wilder’s 1927 novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey: “On Friday noon, July the twentieth, 1714, the finest bridge in all Peru broke and precipitated five travelers into the gulf below.” The novel’s conceit is this: a certain Brother Juniper was himself about to step out onto the bridge when it broke and subsequently witnessed the plunge of five people into the abyss below. Brother Juniper wonders if the tragedy happened according to a divine plan or was simply a random instance of misfortune. His curiosity leads him to investigate the lives of the five victims to prove that the bridge collapse and the resulting deaths were indeed divine intervention—that God intended for them to die then and there. But, of course, the point of the novel is that there is no commonality among them, other than the fact that they are all simply human, with their own frailties.

While the cops looked for whoever was doing damage in our neighborhood, I was cleaning up the damage I caused, picking up the tiny featherless carcasses that were not as big as one knuckle of my little finger, who could not have been alive for very long, and whose lives where now over only because I moved the wires. And I know people tonight who are hurting over deaths and losses in their lives far more profound that feel as unnecessary as they are unexplainable.

What then shall we say on this darkest of nights, as we wait now for Easter daylight?

Hear Wilder’s closing words:

But soon we shall die and all memory of these five will have left the earth, and we ourselves shall be loved for a while and forgotten. But the love will have been enough; all those impulses of love return to the love that made them. Even memory is not necessary for love. There is a land of the living and a land of the dead, and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

And love is a bridge whose wires will never give way.



  1. Milton, thank you for your beautiful words.
    And forgive yourself, please.
    P.S. Oh, the WA poem today, Birds and Bees? Greatness too!

  2. We, too, have a front porch. And a loose screen behind which a wren has built her nest on the window sill. Too low, too near cat, dog and human traffic. The last time I walked by, mother bird flew out and away. I’ve not seen her on the nest since. I fear these tiny eggs will never hatch. I am wishing I had not gotten so close to her space. Even as I type this, I hear wrens’ songs. Perhaps, then…………
    Good Friday blessings…

  3. Milton, As a youth, next door was an open field, with trees. One tree held a nest, and I wanted to investigate the nest with tiny Robin’s eggs in it. In my haste, the branch jerked and the eggs broke open, tiny robin’s who didn’t get a chance to sing and fly because of me. This is the topic of many a sermon and book, why do bad things happen to good people? There is an answer, and perhaps the answer for me is that I love all creatures, big and small, and hope the best for them all. Bad things happen on a Friday, gives us an opportunity to enjoy the Sunday’s even more.

  4. I had sent this piece to my friend in NH. She is dying of pancreatic cancer. I am visiting her this week. When I walked in the door she had Bridge of San Luis Rey sitting open on her coffee table.
    Thank you, Milton

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