So a few days ago, when I was handed a present and instructed to open it, how apropros that what I unwrapped was a watercolor of a red cardinal uttering the words that brought me to tears, and my boyfriend to one knee.
The ring he slipped on my shaking hand is a family heirloom, originally belonging to his great-grandmother, Sophie. She was a woman of great strength and character, and that his family decided I should be the one to receive this ring overwhelms me with emotion, gratitude, and pride. That they gave it to him way back in August helps explain the "I saw a cardinal this morning!" texts and emails that have been suspiciously increasing in number ever since. That I will spend the rest of my life next to this man that I love and cherish proves that the cardinal does symbolize the presence of beauty, hope, and love in this circle of life.
And now that I wear her ring on my left hand, I know the rest of the story and the significance of this little red bird. Family lore says that when Sophie was dying and incoherent, she rambled with dementia. Did they see it? It was right there. The cardinal on her shoulder. In her last moment of lucidity before slipping away after a final stroke, she woke to tell her granddaughter "Honey, it's time for me to go away. But I'll be back, and when I do, you'll know it's me".
A cardinal appeared at her funeral, on her grave. When her son passed away many years later, a cacophony of birds sounded from outside at 1am. Her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren know that when they see this little bird, it is significant and meaningful.
It is for me, now, as well. Forever.
The who/when/where/how details are still so very far from being decided. For now, we bask in a happy glow.
Somewhere, a cardinal is sighted, and those of us that knows the significance smile wide.