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  • Karen Luke Jackson

In the Midst of Death... Life

Our lives have changed drastically in the past few weeks. Those of us who can are “staying home” Face Timing or Zooming loved ones, listening to bird song, taking deep breaths, weeping over deaths and praying for people on the front lines.

Amid this global pandemic, my grandson, Jackson, asked his mom to teach him how to garden. A junior at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts now studying at home, he also asked for chickens. His family had raised them when he was a boy. Cleaning out the coop was one of his chores. His mother obliged. Thus, the video you see accompanying this blog.

These new chicks reminded me of a childhood story recounted during a recent visit to my hometown. I was at Peck's Place in Ocilla, Georgia, eating lunch with my cousin, Ella Jim Martin, and her friend, Mary Lois Purvis. A petite eighty-seven-year-old, Mary Lois had lost her husband a few months earlier. Both women were munching on chicken sandwiches "all the way." I'd ordered a grilled chicken salad to justify a side order of sweet potato fries.

"I'm glad you joined us, Karen," said Mary Lois after taking a sip of her sweet tea. "I haven’t seen you in years. I remember when Gilbert and I visited your parents after we married.”

“That would have been in the Alder Street house,” I said.

“Yes, you were about three. I'll never forget you running into the living room sobbing. You were clutching a baby chick between your palms, one of those that’d been dyed for Easter."

I put my fork down.

"Your mother asked what happened to your little chick," she continued, “and you blurted out, ‘I was hugging him tight and doo-doo came out.’ We laughed, but I ached to see you hurt so much holding that lifeless bird.”

“What happened then?” I asked.

“You kissed the chick, handed it to your mom, and said, ‘I just loved it to death.’ There was no consoling you.”

I don't know if the words “I loved it to death” expressed how much I adored my pet or if I knew on some level that I had squeezed and cuddled the breath out of that bird. Perhaps both were true. I'd like to think I didn't do the killing. The dye had done the job. I remember Walker's Five & Ten sold those pink, yellow, green, and blue biddies for mere cents and vaguely recall my parents buying me one. When I got home, I Googled colored Easter chicks, which are still legal to sell in some states. The dye used today is food grade and non-toxic to birds that are sprayed. Perhaps that wasn't the case back then. Even so, most die from neglect within weeks.

As I've sat with the story of what was probably my first encounter with death, my reflections about “loving something to death,” have taken on new meaning. I've comforted the child in me who knew no better. I've wrestled with other relationships or dreams when I held on too tightly or so long that I squeezed out all life. I'd like to believe, as I've grown older and hopefully wiser, that I've learned to hold those I love in a looser embrace. A kind of love that endures but does not suffocate, and when it's time to say goodbye, transcends death.

In years to come, my grandson will hear a different tale—one about the garden he tended and the chicks he nurtured as death circled the globe. I hope someone will mirror who he was, as Mary Lois did for me. Unlike mine, his will be a story about a gentle kind of loving and holding and hope that the world needs now. One in which every sprout, every peep of a newly hatched bird, every kind act, and every encouraging word proclaims the promise of Divine Love.

Questions for Reflections

Has there been a time, or is there now, something you are holding on too tightly? How did you or might you loosen your grip?

Are there people who have shared stories about you as a child? If so, how do those memories inform who you are today? Is there someone you have a childhood memory about that you could share?

Where are you witnessing the promise of Divine Love?


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