Oakland in the 1990s, sweating out my dissertation on a computer that unravels each day's work. Some secret worm has burrowed in my hard drive. It's like writing on quicksand. I type for eight hours, and the next day nothing is saved, but today it sticks. Like Penelope secretly unraveling her day's weaving each night. Does this misery ever end? I walk to the Oakland Catholic cemetery, a mile from our house. Victoria and I go regularly. I remember it as a blue clear day, the grave stones gray against the bright grass and spiky pine, the divine wanders among the dead and the humans leave you to yourself.
Hiccuping with tears. Nearly seven years. Am I going to get through this? Give me a sign.
And YHWH, in a good mood offers a "Gideon moment": Test me. Now, I like the Gideon story in Judges 6. Gideon is no respecter of persons. The angel interrupts his secret threshing to recruit him for a manly job; take down the Midianites. Gideon basically says, "Pardon me, but we didn't make this problem." After a series of tests for Gideon, Gideon tests God: wet wool on dry ground, wet ground and dry wool. What's it to God? Not like parting the Red Sea. But then Gideon has to complete his impossible task. YHWH says it's a breeze. Seems more like a little league playing the Kansas City Royals (world series tonight). Gideon wins. But I'm not thinking that when I say, "If things be OK, I want to see an eagle and a hummingbird together." After that big declaration, I look around sheepishly. Think: this is the fairytale of three wishes. You always fuck up.
Which, in a nicer way, is what my mother says when she hears this story later: Don't test God. And she shoots me a strong look that I interpret as, How did I raise this one.
The good news is that my Gideon moment stops my tearful petition. It's dusk and as the light turns rosen, a conference of birds rise up in the tangled bushes that border the cemetery. They twitter in gorgeous chaotic harmony. It's enough, I think, this bird anthem; it's answer enough. And up from the memory, I hear, first one line, then another, a song I composed in my evangelical Minnesota days. A Malcolm Solbakken hymn Kari would love. I sing it to myself, surprised, but glad to remember it.
Then home, had supper with Victoria. To bed.
And the next morning, when I looked out our window: a wild band of hummingbirds whizz through the garden. They circle up and down, in a crazy abandon. All morning, they buzz the air. I watch them, breathless. When I sit down to write one flies up and peers through the window. I get it, I see it!
Years later, at the Wisconsin lake, the bald eagle sits in the high branch of a white pine facing our island, I kayak out to get closer and disturb a hummingbird nest set in the dark of the lower trunk. They buzz out to shoo me away.
For years, I called this a miracle. Now, I wonder about the Gideon-God pact. What was my part of the bargain? Jesse says: beware that you honor what you've been given, and not become the fox.