The Call of the Chuck-Will’s-Widow

I’d just gotten up when I heard a distinctive call absent for decades. I paused in mid shave and listened. There it was again; the three-part call I once took for granted, along with the call of the bobwhite and the whippoorwill. I first thought it was a whippoorwill, but the call didn’t sound quite right, and later, thanks to the Internet, I found the call online (which you can hear by going to this site).

My second thought was “Cotton planting time.” That’s what one of my grandfathers once said, the call of the whippoorwill and chuck-will’s-widow signaling that it was warm enough for cotton, a plant best grown during the heat of summer. That in itself took me back, to a time when the sound of the wind through the trees at night was more common than the rumble of traffic, with windows open to the cool of the evening in those days before air conditioning, the season still cool enough that we didn’t need a fan, myself still young enough to have no real worries nor concerns, when, in the stillness, there was peace.

I felt that peace as I heard the call. The accumulated worries heaped on my shoulders melted away.

“Listen,” I said to my wife.

She heard it, too, and marveled, the sound taking her back as well. “I always liked listening to them,” she said.

In about the time it takes a song to play, the chuck-will’s-widow serenade was over. We went about the business of living, the feeling of peace lingering like the warmth of hot meal when you’re cold and hungry. By the end of the day, the various crises of the work day had worn away the feeling of peace, and yet I still treasured the brief sense of respite, counting it an answered prayer. For I had been growing increasingly irritable from the cares of life and the existential questions of the long term value of things and even history itself. And thanks to that brief call of a bird I often heard in my youth but never saw, that irritability evaporated like fog on a sunny morning. Such is the value of peace.

If peace is so precious, shouldn’t it be treated as such? It’s inevitable that things will come that rob us of peace, but should we go out of our way to seek these things out? And when we do, shouldn’t we ask if it’s worth the cost?

Many times it is. It was to our founders, who took a stand against tyranny, a stand which, if they failed, could mean their lives. From the beginning of our nation to this very day, our freedoms and independence are defended by those who are willing to exchange personal peace for the horrors of war. Those who rush into a collapsing building to save who they can; who go out in a raging storm to rescue the crew of a sinking ship; who each day place their lives on the line have judged the well-being of others to be worth more than their own comfort and safety. Those who have suffered and died for worshiping Jesus Christ would say that it was worth the cost.

And yet there are many things that aren’t worth losing our peace. Inconsequential things such as a tiff on an online forum. These days such places become strident, we ourselves adding to the cacophony over topics not worth a hill of beans. When we get to the point that we can’t even stand ourselves, it’s time to step back and ask “Is it worth it?”

If we aren’t careful, we will let things needlessly derail our peace. Maybe something put off until a deadline, or a bit of minor inconvenience that we put off until it’s too large to ignore

Whatever the reason, if we’re not careful we become so stressed that we forget peace is even possible. Until one morning we hear a chuck-will’s-widow and memories of a time when peace was all we knew come flooding back.

Then we realize that many of the things that rob us of peace come from our own choices. The best thing is to take a hard look at what we do and the choices we make.

I thought on that yesterday, coming on the heels of thinking of dropping an online forum because I’d developed a chip on my shoulder. I can’t do anything about the crises at work, where on the best of days we tend to go from crisis to crisis, but I could choose to walk away from a forum where I was just making myself miserable. I thought about that as I drove home, hoping we’d hear the chuck-will’s-widow again, and once again feel the peace of another time.

We did this morning, my wife and I pausing  just to listen to its brief song before going about our routine. Peace is a wonderful thing.

The problem is keeping it.


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