She said, “You’ll know when you get there ‘cause your heart beats like a drum, like it wants to bust out outta you like some great wave, and you feel it all over. That wave goes right down to your tiptoes and curls ‘round to the back of your head, tipping you further into that great life-changing chasm of love.”
That was twenty years ago, and I’m still the same old me like I was the day before, and the day before that, and so on. Every morning I wake up to see if something’s different, something’s changed, but it’s always the same person in the mirror staring back at me. Maybe life really is just a song and dance and we’re the unlucky partners to a bad joke.
Today I watched a little brown sparrow fly into my house around noon. Curious fella. As I stood there at the back door in the open breeze watching the clouds go by, he snuck in. He sang goin’ in and comin’ out and was gone as fast as he appeared, almost hitting a window. All I could think in that moment was, “What am I gonna do with a dead bird? I have no place to bury you, and won’t you be missed if you do somethin’ foolish like that?” He heard me, or at least caught site of me mouthing those words as he flew toward the door. I know animals have that sense, like people when something just doesn’t feel right in your gut. You drive a different way home, maybe one that even takes you a little longer, because something about that road you have taken every other day just doesn’t feel right.
Anyway, I had a sick sense I was that bird, flying aimlessly trying to find my path and hittin’ walls. Seems like as I get older it starts to feel more and more that way—same routine day in and day out, and there’s no point to it all. I can hear the other birds calling me, telling me the sun is out and it’s glorious, to come on out and rub up against that warm light. Something, though, shoves its way in between that light, and then I’m so exhausted trying to push my way past it, that I give up.
I do try though every time, and some days I feel I get further than others, but whether I give into the dark or catch a glimpse of that light, I try to hold on to that faint whisper of hope that still stirs around me. I can feel that hope catch hold of me sometimes, and I’ve known it was there in the moment, ‘cause it’s like the air has been knocked out of me. Time stands still, colors dull, and like the revelation of air I’m so desperately grasping for, hope enters in with her provocative presence. She comes to the forefront lending herself to me in that fragile moment, wanting to be revealed, so I reach out with new breath filling my lungs. As she presses in upon me, I’m reminded I must exhale once more, releasing part of that hope back out around me. Not all of her has escaped though—there are remnants left. Like dust left behind in a storm, her shadow remains, so I hold close to the sliver of what was, and if I’m lucky, I’ll be able to take that fragment out on dark days such as this and fill up a corner of my soul with a pocketful of fresh air.
Funny thing about that bird—not much to look at it, but a mystery in its own right. Seems like that bird holds on to so many truths we see too dimly in this life, and one must cross over the horizon above to really understand anything. Though I’m not even halfway through in my journey and God willing not close to that horizon yet, I do know for certain these stirrings in my heart yield a seeker out of me, and maybe that’s what she meant all along.
Maybe my heart has always been following some faint beat, one I don’t have ears yet to hear, but it’s still there, each beat a revelation of truth and you can’t help but be drawn closer to that beat. I suppose we are all in our own way, following that beat, and no matter how tightly we are pulled to the center, we’ll get there, some of us always looking over our shoulder toward the city that was, and others who can’t wait to climb that steep ramp to a promise of a new tomorrow filled with an unimaginable and overwhelming love.
EDITORS NOTE: At times, an author's work is motivated by a life event that isn't specifically captured in their work. A story behind a story, of sorts. This is one of those times. Below you'll find the story for Liza Moore's inspiration for this piece. A fantastic story in it's own right.
Inspiration for "The Heart is a Drum"
I had a curious incident happen the other day, not really too unusual, but in that moment my mind connected to an old memory. It was a small brown sparrow that flew into the building where I work. Some items were being moved to the other building so the front door remained open. He flew in singing loudly, flying from one end of the building to the other and back out the door. I could hear him still singing so loudly outside like he was telling all the other birds what had happened.
Watching that bird, and even more so listening to him, took me back to an incident when my family was living in East Texas. We lived there for a short while, and it was a place I wouldn’t have normally wanted to be as I was fine completely leaving Texas, but it was a place my mom, sister, and I agreed was a good compromise. We left Dallas after my parents’ divorce and needed a place to escape all that sadness and brokenness while being within relative proximity to family. A couple years after we moved there, my sister and I began to learn how to drive. Being that I was not in any rush to learn this new skill, my sister was the one that drove a lot of the time after we got our license. It was on a weekend we decided to get out and drive to a friend’s house, and just as we passed a major intersection, we got into a car accident, side-swiping another person. As both cars pulled into an empty parking lot a couple of feet from where the accident happened, I remember thinking to myself, “Man, we’ve really done it now. Mom is going to kill us.”
I remember my sister and I practically jumping out of the car to check on the other driver. She was visibly shaken up and after I asked her multiple times if she was okay, she finally responded and said she was fine, just in shock. She then proceeded to mouth the words, “I’m calling the police,” and it was at that point my sister and I started to fall apart and begged for mercy, asking that she please not report the issue as our mom would surely have to be involved. After pouring out our woes, the woman turned to us and said, “You know what, my husband will know what to do. You’re coming over to my house and we’ll talk about it there.”
Well, we did what any teenager terrified of parental consequences would do and followed her home. When we walked into her small, disheveled but welcoming home, we met her husband who kindly asked his wife who these two visitors were, and with a smile, asked us immediately if we were twins. After his wife explained what had happened, we apologized profusely and asked that our parents not be notified. Sensing our desperation, he agreed and then suggested an even better solution. I remember waiting with anticipation as to what our penance would be. “You’re coming to church with us,” he exclaimed. It turned out he was the pastor of a very tiny all-black Baptist church on the outskirts of town. My sister and I stood there stunned but ever ready to accept this invitation in exchange for our misdeeds.
I remember as we were walking back out to our car, I was wrestling with a mix of emotions, still in shock from the accident, and at the same time curious as to this solution the pastor suggested. When we got in the car, my sister turned to me and said, “Girl, you know we have to do this, and mom can never know this ever happened.” I agreed, and then asked her how the heck we were going to cover up that scuff on the side. She turned to me and said, “What scuff ? We’ll pretend it’s always been there. It’s an old car, it kind of blends in.” We had a hand-me-down car from my dad, an old Cadillac Cimarron. That thing was a beast, and when we slid into the woman’s car, I remember thinking how we seemed to just bounce right off hers. It was impenetrable, and I never felt more safe in that old piece of junk as during that moment.
The following Sunday, my sister and I followed through with our promise. We rose early, explaining to our mom that we had been invited to a friend’s church and that we would be back soon. On the car ride there, I remember thinking that this could possibly be the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever been a part of, or something wonderful and to let it just unfold. As soon as we stepped through the entrance of that tiny church, we were welcomed with open arms. The pastor and his wife greeted us with excitement and motioned for us to sit up front (of course), where everyone could see us. As he introduced the congregation to us, explaining in a roundabout way that we were led there after meeting his wife, I remember my sister doing what she does best and turning around very
slowly with a smile on her face and waving to everyone. Meanwhile, I smiled and nodded in acknowledgement, but deep down wanting to bury myself in a deep dark hole. I felt so incredibly guilty, like we were using God as a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. I also recognized in that moment that this really wasn’t about us, I mean it was, but it wasn’t. This was about the bigger picture. This wasn’t about some mishap that happened the other day. That had already been completely forgiven. This was really about our brokenness, and they totally got it.
In this lifetime there will be hundreds, if not thousands of oopsies or even bigger mess-ups you wish you had a Do-Over Button for, but I knew in that moment it was not happenstance that we ran into this woman. It has made an impression on me my whole life. Every now and then, like the other day watching that bird sing so loudly flying through the hallway, it all comes back because I can still hear the beautiful gospel hymns sung in that tiny church. I remember the people’s smiles, and most of all their warm hearts. If I could do anything differently, it would be to go back and thank them for making such a big impression on me during an uncertain time in my life.
And, if you’re wondering, we eventually did tell our mom the entire story many years later, and we all had a good laugh.
Cover image by Paulo Infante
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