A covenant of change

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The mornings are crisp these Southern days. The humidity drops; I can breathe deeply again. Energy courses through me. I will accomplish much today. Instead, I pause for long minutes and sitting very still, I look at the yard, listening, thinking. This morning in particular, I have spent hours watching the birds as they come and go. More species are visiting me than ever before. I am transfixed by their activity.

While conducting an interview over the telephone, I forget to ask questions. ''Something is happening,'' I say into the mouthpiece. ''The birds are restless. Do you suppose there'll be a major change in the weather?''

A change is coming, and everything within me is tuned to a high pitch. The wonder of anticipation, of change and yet of permanence.

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When Maria left for school, for the eleventh grade, I kissed her and said, ''Can it be possible, my love? I think we are fooling ourselves. You are just going to the second grade, and we are only pretending you are grown up, aren't we?'' And Maria smiled at me - her eyes dark and sparkling with suppressed amusement - and she was for a moment again the little girl I was so reluctant to send to school each morning. Maria has changed, and yet she remains Maria.

I feel no regret at the thought of the child becoming a young woman, only a deep quiet joy that I have been given the gift of watching her grow.

In a similar vein the subtle and then obvious changes in Nature delight me. I take them in with all my senses, season after season, year after year. How wonderful life is. What a comfort it is to know that fall will come again, that colors will paint the leaves to dizzy variety, that the evenings will be cool and we'll use a blanket, and then the winter will come and we'll burn a fire and be thankful to return home every day. And before we get tired of winter, spring will come again.

I rejoice in this gift of the regularity of cycles and the wonder of change. I am like a child, noticing the pine needles falling noiselessly from the trees, laughing at the antics of the squirrels, clapping my hands at a baby bird's victory in flight.

But then, no longer as a child, I drop into melancholy.

''What if the change doesn't come?''

I shudder and admit to myself that for the first time since I heard of that awesome bomb falling on Hiroshima, I am seriously considering the possibility that a nuclear war may occur. Before, though the bomb was in existence, as it has been most of my life, I had always found comfort in the words of my father, ''Whatever happens, our lives are in God's hands.''

Have I stopped believing it?

No, I don't think so. But now, I find it very difficult to assume that the unthinkable will not happen. The folly of men in high places and the inhumanity of armies and individuals against the helpless devastate me.

My grown-up Niki, so serious and full of faith, said the other day, ''Mother, I don't think it would be good to bring children into this world now.''

And I did not contradict her.

This is why I sit here today, studying the birds, watching the color of the leaves on the dogwood, contemplating the wonder of change, praying for the predictability of change.

Why did I not contradict my child's fear?

Part of it, I know, has to do with the futility one feels in dealing with men in power; part of it is the numbness of recognizing the destruction hidden in nuclear arsenals. But what has that to do with faith?

Hummingbirds suddenly swoop on the feeder, and instead of drinking the nectar , chase each other in futile flight. How much like us human beings these pugnacious little creatures are.

A memory of the war in Greece arrives unannounced. On the nights the bombers flew over Thessaloniki, the sirens would first warn us with their screaming howls. It was a horrid sound for little children to wake up to. Immediately, our father would open the bedroom door and say quietly, without alarm, ''Do not be afraid, my children. I am here. We are all in God's hands.''

Daddy's familiar voice, the reassurance of faith. He meant (I know that now), ''even if the ultimate comes, we are still in God's hands.''

But I did not reassure my own child.

A soft, unexpected darkening has permeated the air. I feel very calm, yet exceptionally alert. The grass is covered with eager birds. They are on their way south, confident of change. Squirrels are storing food, confident that winter will come. Even the fighting among the visitors to the feeder comforts me somehow. It is time, they tell me, to make sure our food is here.

Change. Nature is sure of it. Am I?

I have passed from doubt and melancholy to a quiet determination.

As the light outside has changed imperceptibly, so my emotions have stirred from vagueness to specific assurance. I cannot sit in despair and lament the possible destruction of this earth I love. The time for passivity and easy answers is gone. ''Make me an instrument of Thy peace,'' St. Francis prayed. Nothing passive about that.

I will start by preserving peace with those nearest me, my neighbors, my friends. I will write about peace, without giving up. I will demand actions of peace from those in power. My prayers for peace will be active. This is a covenant.

We have always been in God's hands, and will continue to be. The ancient Greeks had a saying, ''Syn Athina, Kai hira kinei.'' Together with Athene, move your hands also.

I will clasp hands with my child and say, ''Let us make a covenant of peace so that the covenant of change may continue on this lovely earth.''

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