Searching with Shelly Miller, part 1

This is not how a book review is supposed to go.

The day I joined Shelly Miller’s launch team for Searching for Certainty, my father passed away. I did what I could to help promote the book over the next few weeks, but didn’t have the mental space to read more than the first couple of chapters.

Shortly after publication, I took her book with me on vacation and started again at the beginning. I did nothing that week but walk and read and rest. I was searching for answers, or at least direction. Shelly delivered.

Back at home, I sent her an email to thank her and broach the idea of doing an interview, but she never responded. She passed away only days later, on November 1, All Saints Day.

That Sunday I was cantoring at church and both excited and nervous to sing the Litany of the Saints. I’d recorded my pianist playing the first minute of the song and then drove to a secluded street where I could park and practice. Normally I drive while I warm up, but I needed stillness to hit replay while reading from the long list of saints. 

Enter: Disruption.

A small bird, possible a titmouse, accosted my parked car. I wish I could say what kind, but I wasn’t paying attention. I had holy work to do. 

The bird dropped from nowhere and started pecking at my side mirror. Then it pecked at my passenger window. Then back to the side mirror, and so on. I sang on, and it pecked on, almost violently: Look at me! Let me in to your Litany! 

I ignored it. When I drove off, it finally flew away.

When I learned that Shelly had died that very day, I felt sure that the bird was somehow sent from her, trying desperately to get my attention. Look at me! Let me in to your Litany!  

That Sunday was not the first time I’d encountered a Shelly-bird. On the day of her massive surgery to address her sarcoma, I went to a garden to pray for her, because Shelly loved gardens. In between the sanctuary and the Holy Family Center at St. Mary’s is Cynthia’s garden, named for Cynthia Collins Pedregon, who passed away from cancer. She and my mother were friends, so I feel close to both of them when I am in that garden. It was May, and the magnolia tree was in bloom. And an unseen bird, maybe a titmouse, was singing.

I sent a recording of the bird to Shelly, so she could listen while she was in the hospital, secluded from chirpy things. When she redid her website, in preparation for Searching for Certainty, she added a robin. In our interview, I planned to ask why. 

Because poets don’t just post random birds. And Shelly was a poet.

More about her journey into poetry and how I got to be part of it, next week.