Inspired to See with New Eyes

Remembrance of a dearly missed friend comforts a grieving woman.

Posted in , Oct 9, 2012

An owl in a tree on a moonlight night

Susan died early that fall just as the leaves began to turn, and since then her close friend Judy Stolten­berg hadn’t been able to sleep much, her grief so deep it would wake her in the middle of the night like a terrible dream.

On this night it had happened again, and again Judy awoke to the realization that her grief was no dream, that it threatened to push her back into an­other serious depression.

“Do something you love, Judy,” Susan would have surely urged her. “Take some action. Now would be a good time to plant your spring bulbs, wouldn’t it?” Now, when the leaves were starting to drop and the morning air held the suggestion of winter.

Susan had been Judy’s therapist for over three years and so much more—guide, friend, spiritual companion, encourager, fellow nature lover.

Once, early in their relationship, Judy wore a pair of owl earrings to a therapy session and Susan said, “I love those earrings! Have you ever seen an owl? They’re very hard to spot. They hide so well but they’re there and they are among God’s most beautiful creatures. The secret is to train ourselves to spot them, to look with new eyes.”

That was Susan, always teaching, always guiding, always loving, leading Judy out of her darkness. She taught Judy to look into her depression and discover the God-given hope that was there, hidden in plain view, like an owl in the woods.

Time and again in their conversations the sym­bol of the owl would come up. “Remember the owl, Judy,” Susan would urge.

Now Judy sat in the gloom of her bedroom wonder­ing if she would ever see hope again. It had seemed to disappear since that day Susan called to cancel their therapy session at the last minute.

That was so unlike Susan. Judy immediately be­came alarmed.

“What’s wrong?” she nearly gasped.

“I have to go to the hospital right away for some tests,” Susan said. “I don’t want you to worry. I’m sure my doctor is just acting out of an abundance of caution.”

“I’ll pray for you, Susan,” Judy promised, and pray she did, day and night.

But at their next session Susan broke the news. She was battling advanced ovarian cancer.

Judy felt stunned, shocked, as if the earth had opened up and she was in danger of tumbling into the abyss.

Susan took her hand and said, “Judy, you are strong enough for this. Take heart. Look for the owl.”

Which made it all the more heartbreaking when shortly after Susan revealed her can­cer Judy lost one of the owl earrings. She’d been wearing them when she left the house that morning and didn’t realize it was missing until she got home.

It could have been anywhere. Still, she searched high and low, in­side and out, to no avail. What a ter­rible omen this is, she thought.

Susan grew weak and wan. Her long brown hair fell out due to the chemotherapy treatments. Her en­ergy flagged and the sunshine faded from her voice. But their sessions continued, Susan battling on bravely. She knew Judy needed her.

Still, Judy felt so inadequate, so helpless. If only she could stop Susan’s cancer. If only she could do something except feel weak and scared. And powerless.

One day Susan told Judy a story, a story Judy knew was a kind of therapeutic allegory.

“Once,” Susan said, “I saw a baby sparrow on the ground that had fallen from its nest. My first instinct was to save it, to nurse it back to health, to fix every­thing myself. But I put it back on the ground for the mother to rescue, so the young bird would know that it is looked after.”

Judy understood. She understood Susan was telling her that God would look after her when Susan was gone. And she wanted to believe it, yearned to believe it. Now though, Judy was bereft. How would she go on without her friend? She tried to pray, but even God felt so far off and unreachable, so hidden.

Dawn was stirring. Outside her window the sky came slowly to life. Judy rolled out of bed, climbed into her gardening clothes and went out into the garage. She found a box of bulbs, tulips and narcissus. She car­ried the box out to her garden and started to dig.

The work was tiring, the earth hard from the cold. But she persisted, pic­turing the bulbs growing beneath the frozen earth, pushing up their green shoots until they finally burst through the earth in the spring. New growth. New life.

Lord, if you can hear me, if you are there, please let Susan know how much she meant to me and how grateful I am for her friendship, even now when everything seems so dark. Especially now.

Wearily Judy gathered her garden­ing things, lifted the empty box and started to head back inside. The sun was high and bright and all around her the trees were full of color.

She got to the door and was about to go inside when something on the walk­way caught her eye, a sudden reflec­tion right at her feet, a flash of metal. Judy stopped and peered down, then fell to her knees.

The missing earring!

She had walked this path scores of times and it hadn’t been there. She was sure of it. Or perhaps she hadn’t been ready to see it.

For that was the lesson of the owl. Like an owl concealed in the trees, hope and healing can sometimes be seen only with new eyes.


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