The chirping was persistent, and within that sound was an appeal for help that I couldn't deny. As I often did after school in my early teens, I had gone for a walk in the woods near my house. And it was there that I heard the pitiful sound of a baby bird coming from somewhere on the ground. Being a nature-lover who lived in the country, I was well-versed in raising and caring for animals, so I went to see if I could help.
In no time at all, I found the baby bird. Looking up into the trees, I did not see a nest from which it could have fallen. … Scooping up the hatchling, I headed back to my house.
Lola, as I had named her, grew bigger and stronger each day. … She was a mourning dove … a gentle bird that can fill the morning air with the relaxing sound of cooing.
Lola had also found an avid friend and admirer in my grandmother, who lived next door. Grandma always enjoyed our company, and she never failed to have a piece of apple waiting for Lola to enjoy each day. Grandma and I would talk for hours as we worked in the yard or cleaned the house. Lola was always there with us, cooing her song of happiness.
… Soon it was time for Lola to leave the roost. Her … feathers had grown in, and she had become a pro at flying. Although I was happy that she would soon be enjoying her freedom, I had become accustomed … to the relaxing sound of her gentle cooing and our daily visits with Grandma.
But I had to let her go. As I placed her on a fencepost outside of Grandma's house, I told her how beautiful she was and how much joy she had brought … with her songs. She seemed to know that it was time to say good-bye, and as she bobbed up and down a few times, she cooed gently. Then, with a gentle flap of her wings, she was gone—flying gracefully into the sky and into the distance until I could see her no more.
When I turned, I saw Grandma watching me with an all-knowing smile on her face. “She'll be back!”… “It's like raising children—you have to have the courage to let them leave the nest. But if you love them, they will never forget that love, and they will always be a part of your life—both physically and in spirit. You gave one of God's creatures the gift of life and love. You will always get back what you give, and when you give in love, then love will always return to you.”
True to Grandma's words … one evening, I heard the distinctive coo I had grown so fond of and found Lola … looking in the window. And she wasn't alone! Beside her was a male mourning dove.
I quickly ran to Grandma's house to tell her. … Grandma reached for the customary apple and said, “Slice this up and put it on the porch, and let's see if she comes to visit me.”
Sure enough … Lola flew over with her companion. Together they ate the apple. In that moment, a tradition began that spanned many years and many generations of Lola's family. Feeding Lola and her ensuing brood over the next several years became a daily routine and a labor of love for Grandma.
… This routine continued until I, too, was ready to leave my parents' roost. … and just as Grandma had affirmed with Lola, I, too, came back to see her as often as possible. Grandma and I shared many common bonds—Lola, gardening, our spirituality—and the strongest bond of all—our love for each other.
Grandma passed in the late 1980s, and although she was no longer with us physically, her spirit remained as the traditions of love that she had established continued on. Grandpa continued feeding the doves for many years afterward, seeing that there was always food and water for them to enjoy and listening with pleasure to their songs. The gift of life that I had given Lola so many years ago was coming full circle as the children of Lola's children now gave my grandfather a sense of purpose as he adjusted to life without Grandma. He often remarked how they filled him with peace and brought back wonderful memories of Grandma.
I now have a family of my own, and my grandfather, too, has passed from this world. But the lesson that Grandma and Lola taught me will always be fresh in my mind. When my own daughter has grown and is ready to begin a life on her own, I will have the strength to let her go, for I know that our love is a bond that will always keep us together. The love I give her will continue on [through] generations to come.