87: The Brush of a Wing

87: The Brush of a Wing

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Miracles Happen

The Brush of a Wing

Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.

~George Iles

I’m a Boy Scout Venturing Crew Leader, so I have been trained to prepare for any challenge encountered while camping. I will never forget one early autumn campout when I did everything wrong despite my training, leaving me desperate for a miracle.

Our camp was 300 acres of heavily wooded hills. A rural road, little more than a lane, bisected it. The boys were camped in and around the farthest cabin and the girls were in the building closest to the parking lot, yet across the road. The dining hall, the only building with plumbing, sat atop a high hill behind the lot. There was a small winding drive on one side, but most campers took the direct route over a stream and straight up the hill.

We arrived Friday evening and had activities until late Saturday night. I’m an early riser and always the first one awake on Sunday to make coffee and start cleanup. This particular weekend I awoke just a few minutes past 3 a.m. with an urgent need for a bathroom.

I often lectured the youth on safety procedures, such as never wandering alone, always having a flashlight and letting someone know where you are going. I reached down for my shoes and the small flashlight I leave in one of them for quick access. My shoe was empty. I sighed remembering the small boy who had borrowed it. I pulled on my shoes and slipped out of the building without waking anyone. After all, I was only going to the port-a-potty a few yards from the cabin. On my way there I changed my mind and decided to go to the dining hall to use a real bathroom.

I stumbled down the steep rutted drive and walked along the road. This was the long way, but easier to follow in the dark. I trudged up the stony drive, used the bathroom, and then fixed a cup of tea and sat on the porch enjoying the peace. The cloud cover was heavy and I couldn’t find a single star in the heavens. As I sipped I pondered the silence. No crickets, frogs, not even a scurrying mouse made a sound. I felt completely alone, and it wasn’t all that bad. I returned my mug to the kitchen and went back outside.

I looked down the rocky drive, contemplating the long walk back to my cabin. I was exhausted. It had been a busy weekend and I’d only had a few hours sleep. Plus it was frustrating to know my cabin was directly across from where I stood atop the hill. Returning the same way I had come was about four times longer. Yes, it was dark, but I had walked the shortcut hundreds of times. Chiding myself for being too cautious, I headed straight down the grassy hill toward the stream.

The parking lot has lights, so I found the footbridge over the stream and made my way across the sandy field filled with a few dozen cars. I was at the far left end of the lot. A thicket hid the road beyond, but this end had a small set of steps up to the road.

I found the first steps and crossed the road. The brush on the other side was heavy and it took several minutes to find the other set of stairs. They were overgrown and when I reached what should have been a small clearing with at least four paths leading out like wheel spokes, it seemed the brush and trees enveloped me. I stumbled along in what I hoped was the right direction, but there was no light and the path was so covered with wild brush I was no longer sure. After several minutes of fighting the branches I decided to backtrack and take the longer, but more sure, route. But now I couldn’t see where I’d just come from. I felt the branches, hoping to find a bent or broken one to testify of my passage but found nothing.

I started to panic. I was lost within a football field’s length of my cabin! What kind of example would that be? Then I realized all the safety rules I had ignored. I didn’t want to wake anyone to go to the bathroom with me, so not only did I go alone, I had left no note nor told anyone where I was going. I had no flashlight, which would have prevented my blind rambling, and I had followed a poorly marked trail. I had been over-confident, and I was lost in the dark.

Unsure what to do, cold and frightened, I sat down and tried to regain my composure. In my mind I spoke a prayer, asking for literal guidance. I even chuckled at the ludicrousness of my situation: a BSA crew leader lost within sight of her cabin. Sight that is, once the sun came up. Still sunrise was several hours away and I really didn’t want to sit on the cold ground that long.

The silence was no longer restful, but now oppressive. I stopped looking up at the blackness and lowered my head into my hands. As I fought back tears of frustration a velvet touch brushed down my cheek. Startled, I opened my eyes to see a pure white feather a foot long, lying on the ground a few inches away. It resembled an arrow and I stretched out to pick it up. From this point, with my eyes at ground level, I could see the path beneath the overgrowth. I was only a few yards from the cabin and that single white feather had pointed me in the right direction.

In a moment I was lying on my bunk, the feather tucked in my pillow. It is my reminder that miracles can arrive in silence, and without any witness. I was saved from cold and fright, but most of all embarrassment. Now I always carry a spare flashlight and my feather!

~Anna M. Lowther

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