The warning came gently on a warm afternoon. Richard Cabe, one-time economist, and now sculptor, peered up at the sky and wondered aloud about the flock of birds circling overhead. Beside him, his wife, plant biologist Susan J. Tweit, looked up from her labors and gasped, but for a different reason. The sky was empty of even a sparrow.
After hospital scans, Richard learned he had an aggressive form of brain cancer. Not ready to go gently into that good night, he agreed to surgeries and treatments that bordered upon cruelty. Yet to extend his life, he chose to endure the treatments.
Susan, his wife of many years, helped him confront each challenge. Together, they displayed extraordinary courage, more than ordinary people expect to face. They got through them, despite moments of frustration and anger and hope, so eviscerated, it made a hollow for despair.
To be blunt, Richard dies. The book, after all, is a memoir, not a mystery. We all die. But as we turn the pages of Tweit’s book, we grow wise, stirred by the beauty of a leaf, a stone, or the flight of real birds. True, pain flows from the author’s pen as fluid her tears. Yet as readers, we are willing to pay the price. Our reward is to glimpse the impermeable strength of love and friendships.
If passages in Bless the Birds form knots in our throats, they arise, as I’ve suggested, not purely from sadness but also wonder. Just as night serves to illuminate the stars, Tweit’s loss opens our eyes to death’s revelation.
Most of us who have sat beside a dying loved one know the lesson. We marvel at the hand, frail as parchment, we hold in ours. Is a connection still possible?
Richard’s parting words to his wife are, “I am a lucky guy.” It’s a strange pronouncement from a dying man. Yet readers understand they are words rising from a reservoir of love. Love surpasses time. That is the Zen moment Tweit helps us realize. Life and death are opposing points in an eternal cycle, yes. But devotion transcends their limitation.
Bless the Birds is the story of two people who must accomplish the unthinkable: build a life upon dying embers. Somehow, the lovers manage to transcend, though it is an accomplishment wrung from unflinching honesty.
This memoir won’t be found in the lists of Harpers, Penguin, Simone & Schuster, or any large publishing house. Even so, it waits to be discovered by dedicated bibliophiles, this jewel among the small imprints. Like The Guardian Angel of Lawyers, by Laura Chalar which I recommend in 2020, Bless the Birds shouldn’t languish like a flower born to blush unseen.