My first week in the Abbey passed quickly and, some would say, uneventfully. I worked, slept, ate, meditated in the cloistered garden and read snatches of the herb book in the evenings. The time, however, was full of subtle and unexpected miracles.
I soon became accustomed to the fact that day or night, whether writing in my journal, or working on a manuscript page, the light from that small, unreachable window was always perfect, then just when I'd reach a point where I determined the day had lasted long enough, the light would slowly become dimmer, soft shadows would fall, and within half an hour I'd be asleep in the welcoming darkness.
I continued to leave the door to my cell open, although I'd already given up the idea of catching the person who delivered my meals. Oreo roamed whenever and wherever he wished, always returning in a pleasant mood ready to butt heads with me and purr in my ear, and, of course, always ready to eat.
On the third day I decided to give Tookey a bath. I opened her cage and after pouring some water from the pitcher into the basin I gave her my arm and lowered her in until she stepped off. Usually timid with anything new, she immediately plunged her head into the water and splashed it onto her chest. In an instant she was thrashing both wings in wild abandon and screeching in delight. I added water three more times before she was satisfied and by then I was almost as wet as she was.
"You are beautiful," I told her, although there's nothing quite as ugly as a wet parrot. Most of her primary feathers had turned brown and her fluffy pin feathers stuck out in fierce spikes. Her orange and black eyes dilated with excitement. I put her on top of her cage in the sun and left her door open so she could go in when she wanted. Just as I took a step away, she unfolded her wings and gave a huge shake, showering me again in the process.
The pitcher was nearly empty, as was the basin. All the water was on the bird, on me, or the floor. I was drying things off when I noticed faint, pink rosebuds painted on the fluted rim of the basin. I checked the pitcher, sure enough, climbing up the handle, more roses. The set had been plain, unadorned white. I'd wondered why it was even in my cell when the shower was right down the hall. Could it have been meant for Tookey all along?
As puzzled as I was, I didn't give it another thought, because right then my soggy, old bird, who hadn't flown in years, gave a loud squawk and lunged and scrabbled her way up onto the window ledge. Totally unnerved, I pulled the chair over and climbed up to try and coax her down, but it was obvious she intended to settle in and stay right where she was.
I calmed down after awhile and resumed my writing. The Abbey, I reassured myself, was safe for all creatures, including middle aged parrots. Tookey stretched a wing now and again, rested, fluttered and preened until she was dry. Then she flew off.
The Abbey is full of paradoxes. At home I would have been unable to work, afraid for my pet's safety, here I simply did what was expected of me and trusted in God to do the rest. From time to time I'd look up to see if she had returned, but without any worry or concern, simply out of curiosity.
Lunch time came and went, still no Tookey. I took my usual afternoon break in the garden, hoping to see her perched in one of the quince trees and was disappointed to find she wasn't there either. I suddenly realized this was the first time I'd worried about anything since I'd come to the Abbey. I opened my pocket Bible to Matthew 6 and read about the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, reminding myself that God was taking care of all my needs (and Tookey's) and that I'd come to the Abbey to practice my writing and art in the context of my faith.
I drew for the rest of the day, abstract forms, stain glass possibilities, patterns, lines, shapes--straight and symmetrical, flowing loops and curves, and every one led me further into the contemplation of the majesty of creation and the wonder of the Creator. The movement of my hand became worship, my eyes adored, my voice praised, and all my heart gave thanks to God's awesome power.
I have no idea how long I worked (drew? prayed?) there is no clock in my cell and no way for me to judge the time, but eventually I felt weary and lay down on the bed to rest. I awoke, I think because I was hungry and smelled food. Evidently Tookey returned for the same reason.
I saw her up in the window when I brought in my dinner tray. As soon as I uncovered the plate of angel hair pasta, she swooped gracefully onto my shoulder and snuggled her face against mine. Her feathers were soft from the bath and had the scent of the open air. She would have been more than willing to eat directly from my plate but after a bit more nuzzling, I filled her dish with pasta and put it in her cage.
While she ate, I used my dinner knife to pry open the hinges to her cage door and remove it. Her cage was her home, as this cell was mine, but never would either door be locked again.
Oreo soon joined us and after we had finished eating, I again slid my chair over to the window, but this time with a difference. When I stood on it I could lean my arms on the sill and, for the very first time, look out. The view took my breath away. A pale blue sky with a cluster of clouds riding on the horizon met a glittering azure sea. Gulls called out and wheeled the heavens searching for fish. Waves crashed against rocks and tumbled onto the sandy shore beneath us.
Oreo leaped up and strolled the ledge a few times, then sat to one side and began to wash. Tookey flew from her cage, her green and yellow feathers more brilliant than I'd ever seen them, her orange epaulets sparkling like a firebird's. Retrieving something from a niche in the stone, she waddled toward me and presented it as a gift.
A small scallop shell. A sign of pilgrimage.