lenten journal: of birds and bluebonnets


Late Monday afternoon, Ginger and I drove to New Haven so I could have an MRI. The asymmetrical nature and rapidity of my hearing loss over the last year caused my audiologist to send me to an ENT doctor, who decided to do the scan just to make sure we weren’t dealing with tumors or blockages. The folks at Yale Medical Center were helpful and encouraging. Ari, the person who operated the MRI machine was compassionate and aware that small spaces are not my favorite, to say the least. I laid down on the platform with my head in a sort of dish and then they put a mask over my face—that was the hardest part. Then she stepped away and the bed slid back into the tube and the noises began. Big noise. Like she had a jackhammer and I was lying underneath the pavement.

I decided I could think about being stuck in the tube or think of something else. The mask gave me a reason to imagine myself as a Storm Trooper, so, for the seventy minutes I was trapped in the noise and the nearness, I let myself get lost in space. When it was over, Ari said, “You should hear something in a day or two.” And I went on my way.

I called once yesterday and was told they didn’t have the results yet. They called today about one o’clock. “The test was normal,” she said. “The doctor says you can go on with your hearing aids.” I hung up the phone and realized I was more relieved than I had expected. Whatever is going on with my ears, it’s not something that will require brain surgery. I am grateful. And I am still left without any sense of why my hearing is deteriorating. I still have lots of questions and I don’t know who to ask.

I thought about Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount when he says,

Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink, or about your body, what you’ll wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are? Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? And why do you worry about clothes? Notice how the lilies in the field grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all of his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these.

Since the demise of the Writer’s Almanac, I have taken it upon myself to post poetry on my Facebook page as close to daily as I can get. This morning, before the test results and my recollection of Matthew 6, I posted “This Day” by Jimmy Santiago Baca.

This Day

I feel foolish,
like those silly robins jumping on the ditch boughs
when I run by them.
     Those robins do not have the grand style of the red tailed hawk,
     no design, no dream, just robins acting stupid.
They’ve never smoked cigarettes, drank whiskey, consumed drugs
as I have.
     In their mindless
     fluttering about
     filled with nonsense,
          they tell me how they
                love the Great Spirit,
scold me not to be self-pitying,
to open my life
and make this day a bough on a tree
leaning over infinity, where eternity flows forward
and with day the river runs
          carrying all that falls in it.
Be happy Jimmy, they chirp,
Jimmy, be silly, make this day a tree
leaning over the river eternity
and fuss about in its branches.

As I thought about the lilies of the field, I realized I always imagine bluebonnets when I read that verse. If you have never seen a bluebonnet spring in Texas, you have missed one of life’s great beauties. The little wildflowers fill medians, drainage ditches, and pastures for a couple of weeks in March and then they’re gone. They don’t spend their two weeks of glory thinking about how they will die and go to seed. They just do their bluebonnet best and being traffic to a halt with their beauty. With Jimmy’s birds and my memories of bluebonnets, I went back to Jesus’ words and my questions.

Earlier this week, I made the comment to someone that in some ways I dreaded hearing that the MRI was clear because that meant we had no answers for why my hearing is changing. A friend at church, who is a scientist, gently reminded me that a clear MRI would be the best news—and he was right. Well, I guess I was right also because I have a clear MRI and I still have no idea why my hearing is changing. But my choice tonight is to be like the birds and the bluebonnets and relish in the good news. Jesus’ last words in this section of his sermon were

Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Maybe. And each day has enough joy and hope, whatever the news—so say the birds and the bluebonnets. And today I got good news.



  1. Eagerly awaiting first bluebonnet on Wilson Hill, Colorado County, Tx. Perhaps after all the rain this fall and winter, they will fill in below the hill transforming the pastureland into a blue lake for their season

  2. Good news on the MRI. When I have them I take myself mentally to the beach. I like your storm trooper idea. It goes with your cape!

  3. We are so glad the MRI was normal. We are still talking about and sharing “Witness.” I can’t explain in words the changes it left in my thoughts. Opening our lives….oh, yes!

  4. Good news is always welcomed, even when questions remain! I couldn’t breathe as you described the test. I injured my shoulder years ago and the doctor ordered an MRI. In a moment of panic, I declared I’d rather he amputate than put me in the machine … I never went in the machine and still have my arm!
    (Reading this, I’m reminded of one you wrote years ago when you said “I’m considering the lilies … ” It stuck with me. I think of you each spring when the saga lilies bloom in Park City.)

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