When I was a younger woman, I collected birds’ nests. The collection began when two dear neighbors brought me a branch from a tree on their farm, a branch which had an intact bird’s nest in its V. I loved it. And then, seeing that nest displayed, other friends began to give me ones they found, a cardinals’ nest from a back deck, a nest before a move to another city, tiny nests built atop a door wreath, a nest in which paper had been used as interweaving. Once when I was driving in pouring rain, there on the trunk of a parked car, was a nest. Once I was sitting under a tree saying a prayer and when I finished, the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was a nest waiting for me.
I loved those nests with all my heart. Over the years, as I failed one marriage and another failed me, and I clawed my way up out of the debris, I carried them with me.
Not so long ago, I visited a friend’s weekend country house. The house was rambling and filled with flower prints on the walls and on the sofas. There was a big kitchen with a big table around which her family, sons, daughters, their husbands and wives, grandchildren, her forever husband, ancient parents, gathered at holidays. And I thought, this house is her life’s nest, a place where her family can gather in one container, and she can count heads and hearts and smile on the new little ones and sit at one end of the table and be proud of what she has created with the man she loves, a geniune nuclear family, no divorces cracking them open.
That’s what the nests meant to me, I realized, as I slept in a bedroom of that house, an outward symbol of that which had always eluded me and which I had wanted most of all once upon a time, a marriage held sacred because love was held sacred, the same children by the same father, holidays where all could gather in one place and I could count my blessings.
The other day, one of the cats knocked a nest to the floor, and I was able to sweep it up and put it in the trash without tears. My young mothering days are over. My family is splintered. I won’t ever have the luxury of looking around at a big table at what I have created with the man I created it with. I failed at that particular dream.
And that’s ok. And that’s a miracle. And that’s a blessing.