This Baby Can Fly! [Pondering the Afterlife]


On Earth, the soul is invisible and it’s hard to believe in what you can’t see. –The Afterlife of Billy Fingers

My friend, Ann, thinks her dad visits her from the afterlife as a cardinal (the bird kind, not the Catholic kind or the NFL kind). Ann can be a little new-agey so when she first told me this, I snorted wine up my nose suppressing laughter. But then I researched it and, sure enough, it is a common belief that people come back as cardinals. As I write this a male cardinal is drinking from our outdoor fountain.
I’m experiencing waves of grief since my dad’s death but other than crying about it, I don’t know what else to do. In the daytime it is easy to keep my mind occupied but at night the dreams come and the funeral music and and and…

I’ve tried to find solace in believing my dad is watching over me now from Heaven; however, my mother is a Jehovah’s Witness so I didn’t grow up believing I would go to heaven (or hell, so that was in the plus column). Witnesses believe when you die you go to sleep and you get a chance to be resurrected and judged someday. If you pass judgement you get to live on Paradise Earth. If you don’t pass judgement you just go back to being dead. There are a 144,000 Witnesses that will end up in Heaven. All this to say, my father’s death has left me simply sad. I know he’s not one of the 144,000. He’s probably not even in the top 14,144,000. And I’m not thrilled about his chances (nor mine) on Judgement Day.

My cherry-picked version of an afterlife would be that I go straight to the pearly gates and check-in. Once there, relishing in sumptuous food and in the good company of foregone loved ones, we’d gather in Heaven’s media room to watch everyone we care for on Earth ready themselves for death (blink-of-an-eye stuff). Moments later we’d greet them at the gates and they’d exclaim, “What? If I’d have known it would be like this I would’ve come sooner…Oh, hey, Al!”

But I’m just not that confident. If I was a time traveler from the 1800’s and found myself looking at a Boeing 747 and some pasty guy smiled at me and said, “Climb onboard! This baby can fly!” I would most definitely NOT climb onboard because, F that. That thing ain’t flying. For sure I would push someone else in front of me in line. Until I saw an airplane go wheels up, I would just hang back from the pasty guy, eating a Cinnabon. Seeing is believing and let’s face it, airplanes really shouldn’t fly. It just is outside the realm of feasibility.

I’m fairly confident that at my own funeral no one will stand up and say, “She was a person of great faith.” It is far more plausible they might bring in Mr. Booher, who would confirm that, as early as the 4th grade, “She was a visual learner”.

My last words to my dad were, “Bye, Dad. See you on the other side”. I hope I wasn’t lying.

Blind faith. It’s called that because you don’t see what you believe. I need to just have faith in the unknowable. After all, however improbable it is seems, planes DO fly. As does that male cardinal just outside my window. If I squint just so, he looks like he’s wearing overalls.


  1. Beautifully written. My friend and I, also an ex JW’s were talking about that very thing just two days ago! As an ex, our concept of heaven is far different than those raised “Christian”. We believe in heaven and granted the Bible does talk about 144,000 but despite what JW’s teach it talks about that number reigning as judges over the earth or some such. (To be honest, that is how I recall it, not having reviewed that scripture in a long time) It doesn’t ever say no one else will be there. At least that is how my mind went. I like how you presented it though. Fortunately, I still believe that God’s intentions for man are genuine and we all lie in His hands and that if He’s the Author of our story and Him being how I picture Him, everything will turn out just fine.
    As for reincarnation, I never heard the cardinal theory. LOL But…
    Shortly after my father died, a little black and white Papillon dog showed up on my doorstep. After much effort to find his owner, he became ours. One day, as my sister and I were walking him, he did something that so reminded us of our father (stubborn) and I said, “he’s just like dad!” We looked at one another and laughed. “Wouldn’t that be something?” my sister said. From then on when he acted up, we’d call him “little Gilbert”.

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    1. Aw, Little Gilbert. That would be comforting. My mom is still a Witness and takes comfort that my dad is “sleeping”. I’m pretty sure she’s convinced he will stay asleep and she’s moving on to Paradise! Thank you for such insightful comments.

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  2. I find it very difficult to believe that people’s souls simply disappear when their bodies finally give up, and that’s coming from an atheist like me. I have a friend who believes people re-incarnate as butterflies and she told me once that, after her mother died and she got married to the father of her child, a butterfly landed on her son’s shoulders and she was convinced that butterfly was her mum. I loved that story and I believe that whatever brings you comfort and solace and helps you carry on is good enough and should be respected. I’ve never seen a cardinal – I don’t think they live in England – but they look beautiful. You go on believing. Big hug.

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  3. Hey Al. It is very difficult to process. My really good friend’s dad passed a couple of years ago. At that time, she moved out of her Dads house where she had been staying to help take care of him and moved in with me for a while. Mind you this was a move of 30 miles and another county. Shortly thereafter I read about when you see a cardinal that it is someone you loved watching over you, checking on you, etc. Not long after her Dad died and she moved in I kept hearing a pecking sound on my dining room window. At first the pecking sound didn’t register with me. The next day it happened again. Again I just ignored it. On the next day when it happened again I thought what the heck is that noise. When I investigated, there sitting on my dining room window ledge looking in at me was a male cardinal. When he saw me he lifted his head and looked harder at me. Finally I said “”Hi Willard. Libby’s at work right now.” With that he flew off but returned several days in a row thereafter with us repeating the same routine. (I actually took a video of it!) Since that time “Willard” shows up routinely sitting on the side mirrors of Libby’s car, her brothers car, and her nephew’s – the three people he was closest to in this world – and on many occasions and in many places at the most significant times. Libby has moved out and Willard no longer pecks on my window but he still appears on my crepe myrtle each time Lib or her brother are sitting on my back porch. Just sayin. I’m a believer. Grief is like an ocean – it ebbs and flows. I’m so sorry for your pain and want you to know I’ve said many prayers for you and your family. You’re always in my thoughts! Love you!

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  4. Dad loved birds and I think the cardinal was one of his favs I think the navy plane was him doing a fly by and saying I am out of here see you just beyond the moon Love you baby sister

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  5. Excellent, it makes sense that from “here” we “go” “somewhere” after all “when” we get here, it is said that we “arrive”. After my mom “passed” my granddaughter who never met her, and tall enough to stand but not speak, walked around my library, which she had not really been in before and pulled out the one book my mom had given me with a note to me in it.

    Coincidence? Perhaps, but I just don’t think so.

    Fly cardinal fly,

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  6. You might remember that Daddy always had a toothpick with him. Usually it was tucked in his shirt pocket “just in case.” He was long pass using them or carrying them during those last months. On the day he left us we found a toothpick just outside of Mom’s bedroom door (he slept in another room under the care of a night nurse). Later that day we found one near the front door. You might wonder, like we did, why Daddy would need to use the front door. It’s almost like he was making the rounds one last time, checking on Mom and locking up the house just like he did for 60 years. At his funeral a friend passed by the family row at the front of the church and handed us a toothpick that he found on his way down the isle. He was as shocked as we were. There are many many stories of “signs” of afterlife. I believe we all have angels watching over us, providing comfort and protection but I’m not sure they know the exact type of toothpicks Daddy used. 😊
    Love you, praying for you and I’ll be watching for cardinals now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love that. I thought of you whole writing this. You are so steadfast in your beliefs and I so wavering. My sister Joan has seen two white feathers. She told dad before he died to make that his sign to her. I just don’t want him to be sleeping and miss all of our lives.


  7. I wish I could give you some sage advice, having gone through the death of my own father. Unfortunately, I was 8 years old at the time. That means my advice to you would be something like “Make sure you ALWAYS know where Mom is!” I am also useless when it comes to afterlife questions.
    I once explained the Big Bang to my school kids and told them that it was not only the beginning of space, but also of time. That made me think that there is an alternative to what we experience – a state where time doesn’t exist. No past and present. No coming and going. Once something (or someone) exists it is there always and everywhere. Our tiny brains can’t cope with that, but maybe our great souls can. If it takes a cardinal for you to see that he is still with you – then go for it.

    PS. I hope someone writes as beautifully about me someday.

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  8. To be(lieve) or not to be(lieve), that is the question — and it certainly opens up a can of worms….which doesn’t help people who come back as cardinals, because they feed on insects, seeds and berries. They’d be better off coming back as robins, but I suppose they have no choice in the matter.

    As for me, I’d rather come back as a bird of paradise, but I’ll probably come back as a bald eagle, because I’ve already lost almost all my hair, and it would be an easy transition.

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  9. To be(lieve) or not to be(lieve), that is the question — and it certainly opens up a can of worms….which is no help to people who come back as cardinals, because they feed on insects, seeds and berries. Better for their diet that they come back as robins, but I suppose they have no choice in the matter.

    As for me, I’d prefer to come back as a bird of paradise, but I’ll probably come back as a bald eagle, since I’ve already lost most of my hair, and it would be an easier transition.

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  10. Sorry about my previous comment appearing twice. I thought the first one didn’t ‘take,’ so I re-wrote and re-sent it. The re-send wasn’t exactly word-for-word , but at my age, I’m lucky if I can remember my name (whatever it is). 🙂

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  11. I don’t know exactly what heaven will be like, but I do know that death is the end of each and everything living on this earth. And I believe in a loving God. Which means that death can’t be bad, and heaven is not just for a certain number. Just my opinion…..

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  12. Thanks for following my posts.
    Regarding Eschatology…
    I used to know a man who, when asked if he was a pre- or a post-Millennialist said: I’m a Pan-
    Millennialist- I’ll just wait and see how it all pans out!

    Liked by 1 person

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