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Songbirds, stars and the Fourth of July

Every morning around 5:15, the birds start chirping outside my window. The past several months I’ve been trying to figure out which song goes with which type of bird. It’s made me realize why people become fascinated with these beautiful creatures. Each day, at the same time, they start singing their songs. And every morning, no matter what stress I’m under, their songs make me smile. 

About six years ago I thought I was in a sweet spot of life. It was the Fourth of July 2014. Both my parents were alive and healthy, sitting on the back deck of my old house. My boys were little and they needed me for everything. My entire identity centered around being a mom. 

As I scurried about changing diapers or making food or looking for a pacifier, my parents played with the boys, all of their laughter swirling into the air, creating a precious sound. I have a picture of this very day. Everyone is wearing red, white and blue, buying time between the Lake Junaluska parade and nighttime fireworks. 

Upon reflection, what made the day wonderful was having both my parents and both my boys in the same space and experiencing those powerful emotions that come along with love and family. My marriage was already struggling, but it was easy to ignore when I was happily busying myself being a daughter and a mom. 

July Fourth was always a special time for my family. We spent the week at Ocean Lakes Campground near Myrtle Beach, immersed in every festive activity available. With fried chicken, watermelon, sweet tea, golf cart parades and fireworks, our meals and agenda embodied Americana. As a child who cherished this holiday, I grew up and wanted the same for my children. 

This year for the first time ever, my boys won’t be with me on July 4. They will be with their dad. One of the hardest things about divorce is not being with my children all of the time. Custody agreements are brutal. I’ve dealt with this before concerning Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays, so I know I’ll survive, but it’s still hard. 

It’s been six years since that day on the deck with my parents. Life feels much different. Not only is the world suffering a pandemic resulting in minimal Fourth of July activities, but my mom is no longer here on earth. Further, I’m no longer a young mom. Those sweet years of early motherhood are evaporating. 

My boys are 8 and 11 now. My 8-year-old still feels young, like he needs me to function and be happy. And while I know my 11-year-old will always need his mom, it feels different now. He’s a rising sixth-grader, and so much growth and maturity happens between fourth and sixth grades. He no longer looks like a little boy. Every day, he appears taller, older. It’s like right in front of my eyes, my baby is morphing into an adolescent, and I’m trying to grasp these last few fleeting months of his childhood. 

The aftermath of death and divorce hasn’t been all doom and gloom. It’s allowed me to see life with a new lens. I cherish every moment with the people I love. I hold onto conversations, music, laughter, anything that offers brightness. 

I recently read a passage in Nikki Banas’s book Shine from Within, where Banas says, “Know that no darkness ever lasts. The darkest nights always end in dawn. The darkest storms always end in peaceful light. A single flame can light even the darkest room. Look for the light no matter how difficult it is. A single star can shine out the darkness of the night … Look for that light, no matter how difficult it is. Look for the small flame, look for the single star.” 

Many folks are currently struggling. If it’s not personal trauma, it’s societal and public health stress. The world feels heavy. Humans thrive off routine and at least a semblance of predictability. With so many unknowns right now, we feel disoriented and uneasy. 

I know myself well. I know what triggers my anxiety. I know which healing and therapeutic tactics work. Those tactics are ever evolving. For over two years, I gave little mind to the birds outside my window. I went about my merry way unconcerned with their songs, but for the past four months, the birds have been a lifeline, a much needed constant. 

And as the Fourth of July approaches, I’m not sitting around bemoaning the fact I won’t have my boys. Like a single star or a songbird, I’m fighting the darkness with all the light I can find. 

(Susanna Shetley is a writer, editor and digital media specialist for The Smoky Mountain News, Smoky Mountain Living and Mountain South Media. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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