Birds and Turtles
The nest in my mailbox has become something of an icon. It has appeared in so many stories as to have gained a life of its own – no longer simply a prop, a stage, or a frame for some epiphany into which I have stumbled. It defies everything I know about nests in its placement, longevity, and resilience. And just when I’ve become so accustomed to its dusty presence in the back of the mailbox that I reach in without thought, it makes another offering, something to wake me from my socially distanced daze.
This week it gave me three abandoned eggs, Tiffany blue, each as big around as the end of my pinkie. Tiny beautiful things. I tried not to make up stories about what had happened to the mother – or to the fourth egg, crushed and oozing the sticky, yellow remains of what would have become a bluebird – as I gently eased them out into the bright light, into my cupped palm. I did not know what to do with them, but I could not leave them there, vulnerable to a hurriedly stuffed roll of mail or an intrepid snake. They would not hatch, but I would not allow them to be destroyed.
Just a couple of days before, I’d walked out the back door to the shed and nearly stepped on a turtle egg -- empty, torn in half, lying beside a shallow hole, dug up and destroyed by an unidentified marauder most likely named Owen. I didn’t see any other eggs, but I refilled the hole just in case, remembering the turtle who had been crawling near that spot a few days earlier and lying to myself about the likelihood that I had saved anything.
For the first time in a long time we’ve had a real spring, temperatures that coaxed blossoms into view without scorching them within hours. A real spring that we can hardly enjoy, however, since we are confined to quarters by a disease that didn’t exist until a few months ago.
So I should not be surprised that the eggs showing up in my life these days have not been the candy ones hidden in plastic grass and delivered by the Easter bunny, but the real ones, the fragile ones, the ones subject to being abandoned and pillaged. The ones that we optimistically choose to represent the promise of new life, but that are equally as likely to end up as empty shells.
It has been 40 days since I was told that I needed to separate myself from others. Forty days since I passed another human in a parking lot or grocery store aisle without flinching. Forty days since I accepted a piece of bread and dipped it into the cup at the altar of my church. Forty days since I felt the arms of one of my babies around my neck.
At the end of 40 days on the mountain, Moses came down with tablets containing words both astonishing and eternal. At the end of 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus was attended by angels. At the end of 40 days of washing my hands until they are chapped, watching way too many Hallmark mysteries, and walking over 200 miles down the same four-mile stretch of dirt road, I am just tired.
And a little crazy. Obsessed with images of empty eggs. Bird and turtle. Turtle and bird. Holding the weight of every cancelled wedding and graduation and prom. Every missed birthday. Every missed chance to say goodbye.
I want to know when the siege will be over, when the doctors and nurses will have faces again, when people stuck in apartments can go outside and see grass. I want to know when I can go back to church, see my friends, hug my family. But I want to know – more than anything – if, when this is over, we can possibly remember the weight of empty eggs.