When my elderly parents moved to a retirement community in West Virginia, at my request, it was a tough transition. To lifelong flatlanders, my cherished mountains seemed oppressive, not protective. The roads were narrower and much twistier than those in Michigan. Their tiny new apartment was a poor substitute for the comfortable home where they’d lived for more than sixty years. And, even though they’d grown too frail to do much gardening, the hanging flower basket on their new balcony was nothing like a whole yard with trees, flowers, squirrels, and birds. For a while, we were all miserable.
Then the doves moved in. One day, when Dad went out to water the flowers in the hanging basket, a bird was sitting right in the middle of the bouquet. A few days later, in a nest that was little more than a few twigs, two eggs appeared.
The doves became our shared obsession. We Googled to learn how long it would take for the eggs to hatch. Mom and Dad spent time every day watching and visiting the doves, a dutiful twosome who traded egg-sitting time. Soon Dad could water the plant without disturbing whatever parent happened to be warming the eggs. When they hatched, we were privy to the feeding of the babies, their rapid growth, and their fledging.
“One of them is gone,” my mother announced one day. By the next day, both had flown.
And something else had changed. The little apartment hasn’t gotten any bigger, and the roads are still twisty and confusing. The mountains will never be their preferred landscape, but Mom and Dad seem to have nested. Perhaps they’ve taken a tip from the doves: Home is where you make it. In a flowerpot or a house—for a lifetime or for a few weeks—home is where you go about the business of being a family. And I have come to understand, with increasing gratitude, that Mom and Dad are here in West Virginia to offer me the privilege of being with my family in these late years of their lives.
How perfect that a dove should give me the message. With its mournful voice and peaceful symbolism. With its message of hope, like the dove who brought an olive branch to Noah after the Great Flood.
Can sorrow and peace and hope live in the same heart? I know they can. A little bird told me.