Touching Down

Jen - Columbus, Ohio
Entered on January 20, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: family, illness, love
  • Podcasts

    Sign up for our free, weekly podcast of featured essays. You can download recent episodes individually, or subscribe to automatically receive each podcast. Learn more.

  • FAQ

    Frequently asked questions about the This I Believe project, educational opportunities and more...

  • Top Essays USB Drive

    This USB drive contains 100 of the top This I Believe audio broadcasts of the last ten years, plus some favorites from Edward R. Murrow's radio series of the 1950s. It's perfect for personal or classroom use! Click here to learn more.

Towards the end of my Grandfather’s life he rarely moved and small shifts in his bed seemed to frustrate him. He yelled a lot and the residue from such yelling stuck to Mom.

I used to feel a pang as I watched her come up the walkway each week, upon returning from a visit to see Grandpa. Each week was the same: her with a robotic stride, tired eyes. Then, one day it changed.

No one in our family is particularly spiritual or religious, so when Mom arrived home beaming, saying that she had a divine experience with a bird, all I could manage in return was confusion.

She told me to sit. She said that there had been a peregrine falcon in Grandpa Homer’s backyard; she had seen the bird after stealing free time for a cigarette. I must not have looked too surprised because Mom explained that this was the same type of bird she had downloaded to her computer desktop.

According to Mom, the falcon couldn’t lift its wing; it was wounded. She called the Toledo zoo and explained the situation. A man rolled up in a white van later, with a large carrier, which he nudged the bird into. The bird went willingly, and Mom reached out to pet it when it was half-way in. She said the falcon whipped its head around and stared at her with fire-colored eyes.

“I was scared,” she said. Then she explained a sudden peace as he nestled his head in among giant black feathers.

I told Mom she had an amazing story, and her index finger shot up. The man from the zoo, she went on, was a boy scout like Grandpa Homer. So, when the bird was safely in his carrier, Mom convinced the man to show the bird to her father. Grandpa Homer’s face filled with color when he saw that bird, Mom explained. He said that he knew exactly what kind of bird it was and he started talking about the scouts.

“It only lasted for a short time, and then your grandfather fell back into his state. But before leaving, the man from the zoo said we could name the bird if we wanted.”

“Did you name him Homer?” I asked, feeling as though I had just been told a fairy tale, a small child on the edge of my bed, too excited to sleep, too engrossed in story, magic.

“No. I went with your grandfather’s middle name,” Mom said.

As Mom glanced around with consideration, acknowledging that the house looked good, I cleaned it well. The feeling of magic, the gift of her story, waned slowly, over time. Sometimes it comes back.

Today, I sit in front of Mom’s computer, wondering what spirituality means to me. I sit, staring at the falcon. I wonder if the bird’s wing has healed. I become lost in the orange-rimmed eyes on a simple computer screen until the picture fades and the screen blinks off.