Signs of Transition

mark's picture

Signs in nature surround us. They tell us when a storm approaches. They let fisherman know where to fish. Other natural signs are not so obvious. In themselves they usually don't mean much. Their subtle message, if any, is often obscure or remote. When they appear in the context of specific events or scenarios they can become more then just a random natural occurrence.

Some see signs in common everyday objects. I tend to be more cynical and dismissive. When I see a reflection of what looks like a praying deity in a window pane, it's nothing more then a curiosity. Some may find comfort in the image but it does nothing for me. Sometimes a dirty window is just a dirty window. I do, however, see signs that stop me in my tracks, signs that catch me off guard, signs that make me believe some higher order has put it there in front of me, just for me.

Over the course of a many years I've seen more than a few subtle signs that have given me cause to ponder. Am I looking too deep, over thinking the significance of something so simple and ordinary? Perhaps, there are no absolutes here. Follow me here for the next few paragraphs. Is it a sign or just a dirty window?

Last year a close friend of mine was diagnosed with a very invasive life threatening disease. Early on in the diagnosis my friend Mike started to experience the first emotional stage of a terminal illness. During one of his early dark and angry days a relative called him and suggested he might want to look into a radical new treatment he had just heard about. Mike looked into the procedure, was accepted for the program and underwent major surgery.

Days turned into weeks, but Mike finally made it home. On the day he arrived home I went for a morning walk. The route took me by a large field near Mike's house. It was a quiet late September day and the field was almost empty. Foraging around near the center of the field was a solitary large white bird that stood about 18 inches high. It was a cattle egret. I had never seen one in the area but, it was not that uncommon. Still, it seemed out of place. I made a mental note of the white bird.

I saw Mike the next day. He was optimistic and glad to be home, on the mend. He told me about this large white bird he had seen on his way home from the hospital. It was walking around, right in the field across from his house. He smiled and said it had to be a sign, a good sign. He saw it on a spiritual level, picking up on the significance white birds have in many religions.

Over the course of several months the disease got the best of Mike. Frequent trips to the hospital seemed to keep him alive, but I believe he sensed his time was growing short. When I was fortunate enough to visit him between hospital stays, he mentioned the day when he saw the big white bird. It was his sign, and I was grateful to have shared it with him.

Shortly after the New Year Mike came home for the last time. He was very close to death. Among the friends and relatives, I visited Mike to say goodbye to my old friend. The following day, on another quiet and still morning walk, I found myself next to the same field. I looked across the field and saw two large black crows sitting in a tree. Nothing else stirred or made a sound, it was just the crows. Like the cattle egrets, they were not that unusual but they looked out of place. When I got home I checked my email. Mike had passed away earlier that day. Did I just see another sign? Someday I'll let Mike answer that one.

Mike was always running into the number 11. He seemed to find it in so many places, every where he went 11 kept showing up. Ask him for change and he'd pull 11 coins out of his pocket. The Friday after he passed away his wife went over to the funeral home to make the arrangements. Returning home she found a deer herd in the side of her yard. She got out of her car and watched as the herd lined up and briefly looked toward her. A few seconds later they ran into the woods, all 11 of them. Mike was buried the following week on 1/11/11.

Many years before, I experienced a subtle yet unforgettable sign. My father was gravely ill, with a disease similar to the one that took my friend Mike. I received the dreaded call from my sister early on a Saturday morning in late October. She told me I needed to get to the hospital as soon as I could. Dad wouldn't make it through the day.

I got everyone out of bed, packed the requisite funeral clothes and headed out to load up the car. As I walked towards the driveway, I casually glanced in the direction of a clematis plant near the corner of my garage. The vine like plant, noted for its spectacular blossoms, had never flowered. Four years in the ground and not a single flower. That day was different. A single large white blossom, right about eye level, hung on the vine, catching a few rays of early sun. I thought about that flower off and on during the three hour ride to see my father for the last time. It was a sign, but what did it mean? I don't know. But, every time I walk by that clematis plant,I remember my father. And probably the next time I see a cattle egret, I'll think about Mike. Maybe that's it; maybe that's simply what those signs do. That's OK, that’s all I need to know.