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Feathered Hope

By: Cristina Montes

A year and a half into the pandemic, we could all use a little bit of hope.*

Cropped from bird. photo of Shauming Lo/Project Noah

In literature, birds are frequently mentioned as symbols of hope – in the Bible, the dove returning to Noah’s ark with an olive branch in its beak; the Eagles of Manwe appearing in The Return of the King at the battle at the Black Gate, after Frodo destroyed the Ring; etc.

Another example is Emily Dickinson’s poem where she compares hope with a small but resilient, persistent bird that is also selfless:

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –

That perches in the soul –

And sings the tune without the words –

And never stops – at all –

And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –

And sore must be the storm –

That could abash the little Bird

That kept so many warm –

I’ve heard it in the chillest land –

And on the strangest Sea –

Yet – never – in Extremity,

It asked a crumb – of me.

For the songwriter Leon Rene, the famous swallows returning to the mission of San Juan Capistrano in California every year on March 19 after wintering in Argentina symbolize the hope of reuniting with a loved one.  He wrote these very touching lyrics:

When the swallows come back to Capistrano
That’s the day you promised to come back to me
When you whispered, “Farewell”, in Capistrano
Twas the day the swallow flew out to sea.

All the mission bells will ring
The chapel choir will sing
The happiness you’ll bring
Will live in my memory
When the swallows come back to Capistrano

That’s the day I pray that you’ll come back to me

All the mission bells will ring
The chapel choir will sing
The happiness you’ll bring
Will live in my memory
When the swallows come back to Capistrano
That’s the day I pray that you’ll come back to me

To this day, the swallows still return to the mission of San Juan Capistrano, albeit in lesser numbers due to the urbanization of the surrounding area. Efforts to attract them back have been working, and the website of the mission of San Juan Capistrano reports nest sightings in the mission.

Indeed, these days hope may be in short supply.  But with small, constant efforts to lure it back, it will eventually return with greater strength. 

Whatever may be the bird which, for you, symbolizes hope – be it a dove, an eagle, a swallow, or any other bird – may that “thing of feathers” perch in your soul and sing a tune to keep your spirits up.  

*Editor’s note: Guess which bird species these feather are from.

 

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