Hope is the Thing with Feathers

Oct. 7, 2015

By Laura Stassi

We hadn’t noticed that a bird was building her nest in the transom window over the front door until after we signed a contract to sell the house. It hadn’t even been on the market—neighbors who had heard us mulling over downsizing had pointed us out to a zealous real estate agent with clients desperate to buy in our neighborhood.


Mother bird feeds her babies, five days before closing. Photo by MGJ

Construction of the nest was completed during the week we spent going in and out of the garage so that the oil-based paint on the front door could dry properly. We considered knocking the nest down until we climbed on a ladder set up inside the house and checked things out. We counted three eggs.

Internet research revealed that after the eggs hatched, it would be a few weeks before the baby birds would be ready to leave the nest for good. We calculated that this event would occur a day before our scheduled closing. During the rare moments we were home together and sitting quietly, we watched the mother bird come and go, bringing food for the babies who shrieked at her absence.

If there was another meaning to the birds’ presence beyond ironic metaphor, we didn’t have the emotional energy to ponder it.  We were exhausted from packing up or throwing out a decade’s worth of accumulations while crying and cursing and debating and bargaining over what to do next.

This was the fourth primary residence we had shared in almost 30 years of marriage. It would be the last. In those frantic weeks between signing the contract and going to closing, we agreed to split the profits, divide the belongings, and move on without each other.

A little more than two years later, as I pack up my rental apartment and prepare to move into a little house all my own, I think about the birds who had made their home where once upon a time,  I was part of a we. I discovered this poem by Emily Dickinson; I wish I had known of it then.

Hope is the Thing with Feathers

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.