by Dan Millman and Doug Childers
As far back as he could remember, Boyd Jacobson loved birds. Even as a young boy, raised in rural Washington by his great aunt, Karn - or Mother Karn, as he came to call her - Boyd had spent many hours observing the birds of the Northwest. He loved listening to their calls and collecting feathers, nests, and eggshells.
Boyd's bird-watching expeditions were limited to the fields and meadows near his own backyard, due to his difficulty in walking long distances. As a result of Perthes disease contracted in infancy, Boyd's malformed right leg bone was shorter than his left. He could never walk barefoot without a painful limp. Even with lifts in his shoe, Boyd couldn't run or play sports without aggravating the pain in his hip. But riding a bike was easy, so he became an avid cyclist.
An artist and a free spirit, Boyd eventually moved to Marin County, California, where he worked as a film director. He often rode his bike up the steep and winding paths of this beloved Mt. Tamalpais, a mountain deemed sacred by Native Americans who once populated its pristine slopes.
Boyd was married, and life blessed him with a daughter, Karie. The marriage eventually ended amicably, and Boyd's relationship with Karie remained close and loving.
Then, in 1989, around Karie's seventeenth year, Boyd met and fell in love with Allison James. Allison also worked in film making. Within a year they were engaged, and they shared a home near Mt. Tam with Karie and with Mother Karn. Allison found Boyd's offbeat, humorous character immensely appealing, and so did most of his friends. Boyd was a witty, off-the-wall original who made people laugh, and his unconventional outlook and manner conveyed an expanded sense of reality.
Even as an adult, Boyd still had a passion for birds. He saw himself as a man, but dreamt of himself as a bird. His friends related to him as "Bird Man." One friend made Boyd a ceramic bird with Boyd's face on it that sat on a perch in a cage and sang when you flipped a switch. "When Boyd left a message on your answering machine," Allison said, "you heard only a birdcall and knew it was a 'Boyd-call.' His business card even featured a cartoon caricature of himself as a bird."
After their engagement, Boyd and Allison decided to go to Bali to plan their wedding. Boyd wanted very much to walk barefoot on the beach with his love without a painful limp, so he decided it was finally time to have the hip operation he needed to repair the degenerated joint. For this routine operation, he decided upon an old college acquaintance as his surgeon. After reassuring his loved ones that all would be well, Boyd Jacobson went under anesthesia. But he never regained consciousness due to a tragic surgical mishap.
His completely unexpected passing devastated everyone who had loved him, especially Allison, Karie, and Mother Karn. Even more heartbreaking, Boyd had left without saying good-bye.
After he was cremated, half of Boyd's ashes were sent to the family's plot in Washington. Allison and Karie decided to scatter his remaining ashes in his favorite meadow atop his beloved Mt. Tam. Two of Boyd's friends rode his ashes up on the back of his mountain bike along his favorite trail. Allison and Karie drove ahead to the top and chose a beautiful spot in the meadow near two granite boulders. After Boyd's friends arrived, they performed a simple ceremony, then scattered his ashes across the meadow.
Several weeks after Boyd's death, Allison had a vivid dream: She was on foot doing an errand for her movie studio and heard Boyd's unmistakable birdcall nearby. She entered a store and followed his call to the back, where she found him. He spoke to her for a while, and told her to "do the right thing." Before the dream ended, Boyd held out her cat Chelsea's food dish in one hand, saying he knew she was hungry. Then playfully he held out his other fist, which he turned and opened. Sitting on his palm was a small white bird - a dream gift for Allison.
Allison awoke feeling strongly that she'd met Boyd's spirit. Chelsea was meowing hungrily, her cat dish empty. For Allison, Boyd's message "Do the right thing," meant that she should take care of Mother Karn, then eighty-seven, for the rest of her life, as he would have done. Allison made an inner promise to Boyd to do just that. She later shared her dream with Karie and Karn.
Days later, Karie was going through Boyd's things in another room when Allison heard her exclaim, "Oh, my god!" Karie, holding out her closed fist, came up to Allison and said, "This must be for you." Then Karie turned her hand over and opened it. In her palm sat a small white ceramic bird. They both had goose bumps, and tears formed in Allison's eyes.
Then, two months after Boyd's death, Allison got a phone call from Glenn, a friend of Boyd's from out of town who had missed the memorial. Glenn was coming to town and wanted to visit Boyd's meadow on Mt. Tam. So Glenn, Karie, Allison and her friend Barbara drove up together and parked the car at the trail head.
Glenn and Karie took separate trails for some private time, so Allison and Barbara reached the meadow first and approached the first of two granite boulders marking the site. There on the farthest boulder, six feet away, sat a large and beautiful pure white bird, gazing directly at them. Allison and Barbara froze, so as not to frighten the bird away, then look at each other in astonishment. They sat down near the boulder nearest to them.
Immediately the bird flew onto their rock, only a few feet from Allison. On impulse, she reached out her hand and made a come-here gesture. With a hop and a flutter, the bird flew into Allison's lap. Instinctively she felt the bird was a message from Boyd, like the white bird in the palm of his hand in her dream, and the white bird that Karie brought to her from his belongings. In that moment, she felt a profound shift in her grieving process; a torn place in her soul had begun to mend. It seemed that somehow Boyd had sent this bird as an emissary of comfort and a way to say farewell - evidence that his spirit was alive and free as a bird.
Allison sat still for forty-five minutes, stroking the bird. Barbara, as well as Karie and Glenn, sat quietly with them. It felt like a spontaneous ceremony, an experience of grace and wonder. Finally, Allison said good-bye and thanked the bird, thanked Boyd, thanked the universe, and prepared to hike back to the car. Alison stood up slowly, expecting the bird to fly off. Instead, the bird hopped up and perched on her shoulder. Amazed, she headed down the trail with her new feathered friend.
After some distance, Allison gently lifted the bird and put it on Karie's shoulder so she too could physically feel this living link to her father. Karie took about twenty steps down the trail, then stopped and looked back. As she did so, the bird flew back onto Allison's shoulder, where it stayed.
The afternoon grew chilly as the four of them approached the car, with plans to drive down the mountain into Mill Valley for a warming cup of coffee in a local cafe. Allison once again told the bird good-bye - clearly she couldn't take it with her. But this bird was going nowhere. It remained steadfast on Allison's shoulder as she got into the car, drove down the mountain, walked into the cafe, sat down at a table, and had a cappuccino. The bird was still on Allison's shoulder when she and Karie walked into the house to tell the story and introduce Boyd's emissary to Mother Karn.
More than seven years later, in 1998, Allison, Karn, and Karie were living in their own separate homes. The white bird, now called Birdie, was still living with Allison, a part of the family. Allison built a comfortable indoor cage for Birdie, but from the beginning let her feathered friend know it was free to fly as it wished. She often let the bird out for the run of the house, and Birdie often followed Allison outside when she worked in the garden. Birdie never flew out of Allison's sight.
After some research, Allison decided that Birdie was a great American king dove, but she couldn't tell if Birdie was male or female. Then, during the week of the first anniversary of Boyd's death, Birdie laid a single white egg - small enough to hold in the palm of your hand, or hide in a closed fist.
Birdie, a gift from Boyd, revealed to Allison more clearly than ever that the universe is a mysterious place, and that death is not the end of life or of love.
From the book Bridge Between Worlds, Copyright 1999, 2009 by Dan Millman and Doug Childers. Reprinted with permission from H J Kramer/New World Library.
Dan Millman is a former world trampoline champion, hall of fame gymnast, university coach, college professor, and bestselling author whose eight books, including Way of the Peaceful Warrior, The Laws of Spirit, and The Life You Were Born to Live have inspired millions of people in more than twenty languages.
Doug Childers is an author, editor, and writing coach whose books include The Energy Prescription and The White-Haired Girl. He lives with his family in northern California.