On New Year’s Eve, I went walking under the cover of buzzards. Twelve. I counted them when they were still at least half a mile ahead of me, looping through the sky like braces freed from a keyboard and animated by some perverse magic, swirling in an ever-narrowing funnel toward the ground where some rotting carcass awaited their ravenous hunger.
As I and my hyperactive dog drew closer, they did not, as I expected, aloofly disperse into the bright blue sky until we passed whatever dead animal they’d claimed and then, with great calculation, return to their Danse Macabre. Instead, they followed us. Moving in that same funnel through the tunnel of trees lining the road, diving and lifting, never too close, but always overhead.
I have lived in the country — close to wild animals, witness to their lives and deaths — for a very long time, so I was not frightened by the buzzards’ behavior, but I did find it odd. Odd enough that I took out my phone to write it down, noticing that the time was a little before 3 o’clock, the time of the mid-afternoon prayer called none. It rhymes with bone.
Owen and I had reached the bad curve, turned, and, in our daily repentance, headed in the opposite direction when my cell phone rang. The time was, I would find out when I looked later, 3:27. “Where are you?” my friend Debra asked.
It has been my experience that that particular question does not bode well for what comes next. It generally means, I am about to share with you something horrible, so tell me now if you need to sit down, leave the room, stop the car.
There was nowhere to sit, no room to leave, no car to stop and so I kept walking.
The shocking, incomprehensible news that Debra had to share was that our friend Emily — our friend of 40 years, whose smile brought light to the often gloomy days of law school, whose eyes literally, not in a lazily metaphoric way, sparkled — had died.
Time slows down, of course, in such moments and I remember very clearly my brain searching for words. Neurons bouncing around like a harried assistant pulling out file drawers, sure that the document just requested by the boss is there somewhere if she can just remember where.
“Oh, my God.” Those were the words I found. “Oh, my God.” And I repeated them over and over. “Oh, my God.”
Saint Faustina, who was canonized by the Catholic Church in 2000, reported having conversations with Jesus. In one of those conversations, he was said to have taught her a specific prayer to be prayed at none, at 3 o’clock: “O Blood and Water, which gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a Fount of Mercy for us, I trust in You.” It is called the Prayer to the Divine Mercy.
If I had known that prayer, if it had been somewhere in one of those file drawers in my brain, maybe I would have prayed it. Instead, what I found was, “Oh, my God.”
It’s been over two weeks. Long enough to consider whether the buzzards were a sign. Or a reminder. Or just one of those things that happen in a world where life and death are perennial dance partners.
Over two weeks. And I still haven’t found much more to say than, Oh, my God.
I’ve decided that is enough.