When you listen with an open heart, sometimes you can hear astonishing things. Once, when I was listening in this way, I heard a story, and you might not believe me, but tonight’s a good night to be astonished. I heard this story from fairies.
It begins with a little bird who had a feeling inside, a feeling which told her it was time to make a nest. So she flew about, looking for the right nesting place. She landed on a housetop to rest, and preening her feathers, paused and cocked her head. What was that beautiful singing she heard? It made her tiny heart leap with joy and she hopped off the roof and flew down for a closer listen.
It was coming from inside the house so she fluttered up to a window and perched on the sill. Inside was a girl, singing idly to herself as she sat stroking a cat curled up in a soft corner by the fireplace. Her singing was so lovely – so free and clear and true — that the bird sang back in reply. But the window was closed and the girl did not hear it, not that first day.
The next morning, the girl went out with a large empty pail, swinging it at her side and singing as she walked. Glad to see her, the bird flew over, landing with a hop on the path, and sang “Hello! Good Morning!”
“Oh!” the girl exclaimed in her surprise, but immediately her heart warmed with a bright joy. In her gladness, she sang “Good Morning” back to the bird. And with such lifted spirits, she broke into a skipping stride, singing all the while, as the bird followed, singing too. Together they went that morning down the path out of the village and into the woods, where she fetched water for her house from a clear, splashing stream.
When they returned home, the bird flew to the windowsill, where it had begun to build its nest. Wishing to help her new feathered friend, the girl went and found some soft things: bits of rag and fluff and yarn and downy feathers from the hens in the barn — and put them out for the bird to softly line her nest.
The next morning, and for many days after that, the bird and the girl went together to fetch water. Now friends, they made a happy pair, skipping and singing all the way there and back. In fact, their singing at the stream was so magical that the tiny fairies paused from doing the things that fairies do, so as to listen. You see, the fairies believe that when these two sang together, it was like hearing the voices of angels.
Now, the girl’s house was large and had extra rooms, so her family often took in travelers for the night. When the travelers were hungry for supper, it was the girl’s responsibility to politely serve them their food. And then, after supper, she was expected to sing songs to entertain everyone. Doing as she was told, she would stand straight and tall, clasp her hands in front of her, and sing the songs they requested. Then, when the guests grew tired, they would clap their hands in approval, finish up their drinks and stumble off to bed, leaving her to clear the table and wash the dishes. Her final chore was to stoke the fire in the kitchen, where her cat slept at night, cozy and warm.
Late one night, after the guests had gone to their rooms, her father answered a knock at the door. She overheard him explain that there was no more room in the house. “I’m sorry,” he said as he began to shut the door, but the girl looked up to see a young man and woman, and her eyes grew wide to behold the woman’s large belly, round and full. So she hurried to the door and, ignoring her father’s protests, offered to show them to the barn, where at least they could rest in some dry hay near the warmth of the cows and horse.
So she found them some water and a little bread left from supper. They waited while she stoked the fire and she thought to herself, I’ll sleep in the barn tonight, too. It was the kind thing to do, not to leave them alone out there, plus she loved the barn animals and the smell of the hay. As they turned to go out, the cat looked up at her questioningly. “I want to come too” he meowed, and trotted ahead of them out into the night. It was late and the sky was full of shining stars.
In the barn, they settled in to the sweet hay and by the big cows, they fell asleep.
Sometime later, with a start she awoke and opened her eyes in the dark. Remembering she was in the barn, remembering the late guests, suddenly all of her senses were alert. Then she heard a sound — a sound she had never heard before. It was fresh and raw and sharp and instantly it caused her heart to thump in her chest. Sitting up, she suddenly knew that what she heard was the cry of the baby just-born. It made her quiver inside in a strange way. In the darkness, the mother was trying to warm the baby in her cloak, but noticing the girl, she whispered for her help to go find some soft rags so she could bundle him up, warm and close.
Running toward the house across the dark and starlit ground, the girl noticed a faint glow in the eastern sky. She woke her parents to tell them the news. The baby was tiny and cold and the mother needed some soft cloths in which to swaddle him. She ran back to the barn, with her parents close behind.
Her mother helped the woman wrap the baby. Her father and the baby’s father filled a feeding trough with a thick layer of fresh hay and the mother gently laid the baby there. Then her father asked her to sing some of her songs for the new parents, while he and her mother went back to the house to start their chores for the day. Obediently she stood up tall, clasped her hands in front of her and began to sing. The couple politely listened while the baby lay, blinking and squirming in the pre-dawn light.
But suddenly her singing was interrupted by another voice – a song she knew and loved so well that inside her heart leapt with joy. It was her bird friend! “Good morning!” it sang to her, landing on a rafter above the baby. Abandoning her song and her manners, she smiled and laughed, and with a suddenly soft and carefree heart, she sang “Hello” in reply. The bird flitted around the barn, found a bit of fluff and flew over to the baby, gently tucking it into his blanket, for she knew how to make a soft, cozy nest.
The surprise arrival of her friend gladdened her heart so, that the girl sang to it some more. And when it joined her in a duet, their song came from wherever it always did, dancing a moment in their hearts before sounding in their voices.
And as they sang together, the new baby smiled. And as the baby smiled, the sun’s first rays broke the horizon in the eastern sky. The cat yawned, stretched, and hopped up into a window to sit in the morning sun. And back inside the house, the girl’s mother, who was cooking breakfast, suddenly felt a singing feeling in her heart. She stopped what she was doing and said to her husband, “Do you hear what I hear?” And feeling the same thing, he replied, “I believe I do.”
What they heard that morning, so the fairies say, was the singing of angels.
You see, a voice that sings from a singing heart brings joy and love into the hearts of all who hear. And in the end, what we really believe to be true comes from our own hearts alive with song.
This story is full of the spirit of my mother, who loved birds, singing, fairies, cozy, places, and imagination.