The whirring sound outside my study announces the arrival of my outdoor pet. She alights on the window feeder and watches me warily with chocolate-brown eyes the size of seed pearls.
The hummingbirds first arrive in our yard in late July. During summer, we watch them dive bombing each other to lay claim to the feeders, and hear their distinctive twittering when we walk outside to the car. A keen eye can also detect the tiny creatures sitting on tree limbs, waiting their turn to eat.
But now the days grow shorter, and this means I won’t have my pets much longer. They will soon migrate south for winter. And every time I see one, I wonder: Is this the last time?
This same question sometimes haunts me with human beings too. We never really know when a beloved person will walk out the front door and into the world of highways and byways, and perhaps never come home again.
Recently, one friend was biking and had a close encounter with a car. Fortunately, he survived, and his family and friends breathed a huge sigh of relief, while trying not to think, “What if?”
We expect life to continue in an orderly fashion, day after day, month after month, until something turns our world upside down.
For us, now it is my mother-in-law’s grappling with a serious illness, and our mad scrambling to get her to the hospital, get her into a rehabilitation facility, talk with doctors, therapists and nurses, and look into the future and wonder: What next?
The hummingbirds are a reminder to cherish the small moments of each day in which God makes his presence known.
There are so many indications of his love all around us. In our yard a chipmunk calls patiently for hours each day, looking for a mate. A butterfly dances by, stunning us with his gaudy wings. A red-tailed hawk cuts through the clouds above.
Soon, the last hummingbird of the season will take a big sip of sweet water, flutter its tiny green wings, look at me with those mysterious eyes —and then vanish from our lives.
We don’t know what tomorrow brings. And this is why we must savor each moment with the birds, the chipmunks – and of course, with the people we love.
Will our beloved family and friends be here to enjoy the hummingbird season next year? See the trees turning into a palette of gold and red? And hear the chipmunks’ plaintive calls?
Beneath that is the deeper question, the one we all must face, and which only God can answer: What about me? Will I be here too?
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Lorraine’s most recent book is “The Abbess of Andalusia,” a biography of Southern writer Flannery O’Connor.