The Nightingale in the Garden

https://www.freeimages.com/photo/nightingale-1355287

Thomas looked over his shoulder as he pushed aside the small branch.  All mice are taught to stay close to home. You never know what kind of dangers are out there in the Jerusalem streets. 

Thomas knew that he was not supposed to be out and about today, but ever since his grandfather told him a story from many years ago he just couldn’t stop himself. After pestering his grandfather day after day, Thomas was able to find out more of the story.  It seems that as his grandfather watched, the men who had eaten together that night decided to skip dessert and go out into a garden a few miles away and rest. It was there that much action took place and Thomas wanted to know what it was. He heard stories about fighting, soldiers, and miracles. But when he pushed his grandfather to tell him more, he discovered that since his grandfather  had not actually been there, he did not know any details. He had heard it from a nightingale that lived in the garden and saw it all happen. It was the nightingale that had told the other animals about the dramatic events of that night.

So, Thomas figured that the obvious thing to do now was to find the nightingale. It just wouldn’t do to leave a young mouse hanging like this not knowing what happened next. Curiosity is a strong feeling in any mouse.

Thomas was watching carefully as he darted around donkeys and the numerous feet of passing humans. There were so many of them in this large city that you could not avoid them if you wanted to get anywhere. So Thomas scurried here and there and eventually could see the large gate that marked the edge of the city. He knew that not too far outside this gate he would find the garden of olive trees where many people went when they wanted to be alone. 

He moved around a slow-moving horse, barely missing the feet of a Roman soldier. Thomas ran a little faster before any neighborhood pets could catch sight of him. He knew he had to be swift if he wanted to avoid any danger. But the desire to hear more drove Thomas closer to that immense gate.

Finally, he arrived at the large structure where people were moving in and out at a constant rate. Thomas kept himself close to the edge, away from as many of the moving feet as he could. Just a few short inches and he was outside the city walls for the first time in his life. Mice generally don’t venture far from home, so he might have been considered the most adventurous mouse in Jerusalem. 

Now, which direction should he turn to? Thomas stopped under a peddler’s cart that was awaiting inspection by the guards. He glanced in every direction and caught a glimpse of a small patch of trees in the distance. That had to be where the nightingale lived. So after another glance around for any foot traffic, Thomas started off toward the trees.

The group of trees was much larger than Thomas had first imagined. He slowed down as he approached them and very cautiously looked for any predators. A tasty mouse might just be what they were looking for. He did not see anything scary, so he proceeded into the grove of trees. 

It was so quiet and peaceful. No wonder people came here for solitude. He could not even hear the sound of the city which wasn’t that far away. It was as though he had entered another world far from the busyness of the city.

Now, he had to find that nightingale. Grandfather didn’t say much about him. But he had to be as old as Grandfather was. So, he began to look for a grandfather nightingale.

It was not long before he began to hear music from up in the tree tops. He followed the sound until he found a small family of nightingales singing at the top of their lungs. He could not see all of them from where he stood so far down on the ground. He climbed upon a small rock hoping to get a better view. It was only when a voice reached his ears that he paused.

“What brings a little city mouse to our grove of trees?” the voice drifted down to him. Thomas stopped and squinted up into the branches. He soon discovered the source of the voice was a large nightingale perched a few feet above him. He appeared to be so majestic as he sat there looking down upon poor, scared Thomas.

Thomas was shaking so much that he could only make a little mousy squeak. He swallowed twice really hard and managed to say, “I’m looking for Grandfather Nightingale.” 

The bird above him stared for a long time and then Thomas thought he saw a little smile on his beak. “You have found him,” he said as he spread his wings and began to soar closer to Thomas.

Thomas stepped back a little as the bird landed on a branch much closer to his head. Grandfather Nightingale was much more beautiful up close which made Thomas even more nervous.

“What can this old bird do for a young mouse like you?” he asked.

Thomas was still shaking. “Well, you see….” He began to stammer and shuffle from one foot to another.

“Go ahead. I’m not going to eat you if that is what you think.”

Thomas raised his head. He spoke a little clearer now and seemed to be more sure of himself.

“My grandfather was telling me a story several nights ago and he couldn’t really finish it because he didn’t see how it ended.  He said that you were the one who told him what happened.”

“The rest of a story? What was he talking about?” Grandfather Nightingale was really intrigued now.

“Well, he was telling me of a meal that he watched. There were lots of men there and it seemed that one of them had a friend who was going to tell on him and he was talking about dying or something. Grandfather said that they left the room and he had heard the man did have some trouble and was killed, and after that some wonderful things happened. But he couldn’t tell me more than that. I really want to know what happened next.” Thomas looked at the bird hopefully. 

Grandfather Nightingale’s head bobbed slowly. “Ah, that night.” He just kept nodding which began to irritate Thomas a little. He wanted to know what happened. He’d been waiting for answers, not head bobbing.

“That night has never left my memory. So much happened in this very spot.” He looked around the small clearing where Thomas stood on the edge. “Your grandfather is right. A lot did happen. So much that I was afraid, yet I couldn’t leave. I had to see what happened next myself.”

Thomas held his breath as he waited. It seemed like hours before Grandfather Nightingale finally began his account of what he saw that night.

“It was rather late at night. We had just come out to sing. As we were tuning up, a group of men arrived. There were about eleven of them. They appeared to be following this one man and talking among themselves. It seems that they were confused about some things he had said earlier during supper.

“The man in front stopped them a few feet into the grove and asked them to wait and pray while he went on further to his usual praying spot. You see, he was not a stranger this place. Whenever he was in town, he would regularly come here and pray. Then turning to three of them, he asked that they go further into the garden with him. They did not go too much farther before he asked them to wait and watch while he went on to pray alone. It seemed that he knew something was going to happen that night and wanted them to be watchful.

“You see the rock upon which you are standing? That is where the man fell down onto his knees. He had done this many times in the past, but this time was different. He seemed to be exhausted, as though he had just run from Rome that very day. His whole body was different. It is hard to explain, but it seemed as though he was facing the loss of his best friend. After a few minutes, he began to pray. 

“Whenever he prayed, it was like nothing you had ever heard. Many think that our music is beautiful, but his words surpassed them all. It was not that he spoke fancy words like you hear others do. It was more as if he was speaking to someone dear to him and every word was sincere and true. There was no pretending. It was so real.

“But that night, his words were different. They were still beautiful, but they were so full of sadness. He kept saying that if things could be done differently, please let it be so. He was asking if whatever was about to happen could be avoided if at all possible. But you just knew listening to him that he knew it would happen anyway. 

“During this time, the three who were nearby had grown quiet. They seemed to be close friends whom he wanted with him during this emotionally hard time. After awhile, he got up and went back to check on them. Maybe he wanted the men to pray with them since he did pull him aside. But when he got there, he found all three had begun to snore. The sadness in his eyes deepened. You could see it even in the darkness. I think they felt his presence it because they quickly jerked themselves awake and began to apologize.

“He told them how disappointed he was that they could not stay awake for a just an hour. They hung their heads so low. You could tell that they felt bad and didn’t want to disappoint him. He then warned them to stay awake and do their own prayers so that they would be alert and not give in to sleep. He went back to pray alone.

“He repeated the same words he had said earlier, “Father, if there is another way, please let’s do it, but if this is the only way, then I’ll follow your plan.” He said them over and over again as it seemed as though a large weight was sitting on him. He went lower and lower onto the ground as he prayed.

“A second time he went back to his friends. They had once again fallen asleep. And again he woke them up and lectured them lovingly. It was as though he knew they were going to do it, but hoped that they wouldn’t.

“Again, he came back here to pray. This time, his mood seemed to be heavier. His words were so emotional and important. So much so that a very strange thing happened. He began to pray so hard that instead of the sweat that had been pouring from his skin, there was blood. I almost began a loud song of sorrow as I watched the blood come from him. It was then that I almost fainted from the next thing I saw. A shimmer appeared beside him. It was so light I could see right through it.  It gently reached out and wiped the blood from his forehead. It was so subtle that I wasn’t sure at first if I had really seen it until it repeated the action. The man seemed to gain a little strength from the presence and continued with his prayers.

“When he was done, he went back to his friends who were now snoring very loudly. He woke them up rather quickly and pointed toward the entrance of the grove. As he told them that it was now too late, a group of soldiers appeared, following a man who seemed to know them all.

“Everyone was awake now and very active. The new group of men kept walking through the garden before stopping at the leader. The soldiers were following the one man who knew them. He was not a soldier and it all seemed odd to me that they would follow him. 

“The man who had spent the night praying beneath me stepped forward. He looked the new man right in the eye and told him to do what he came to do. There was such sadness in his voice that I almost cried out myself. But what was really strange was that the man who had just arrived also had a sense of sadness about him. It was as though he was doing something he did not really want to do but hoped it would turn out good anyway. He hesitated and then quickly ran up to the sad leader and kissed him on the cheek.

“For a second that seemed to last for years, you could only hear the breathing of the soldiers. Everyone grew still and watchful. The deepest hurt showed through the man’s eyes as the soldiers rushed forward to grab him. 

“Then excitement really took over our normally quiet garden. One of the three men who had been caught sleeping pulled out his sword and attacked the soldiers. (I remember thinking that now you are awake enough to help a friend.)  An ear flew off the head of one of the soldiers as screams ripped through the air. Everyone was in such shock that the soldiers lost their grip on the prisoner.  The leader reached out and took the sword away from the angry man. ‘Why do you pull out your sword? Haven’t you been listening to what I have been saying? All is happening as it has to.’

“Then a miracle occurred amidst the chaos. He leaned down and picked up the ear that had fallen at his feet. I almost fell off my branch as I watched him take it and walk over to the man who was holding his head with blood flowing out of it. He gently pulled the hands away and pressed the detached ear to his head. Amazingly, no one stopped him. Maybe it was all the commotion, but it seemed that they all left him alone. When he pulled his hand away, you would not believe what I saw. The ear was attached to the injured soldier. If it wasn’t for the blood still on him, you would never have known it had happened. The man whose ear was replaced just stared at the man who performed the greatest feat I have ever seen. His mouth was open so wide I think I could have flown inside. He was as amazed as I was.

“It was then that the soldiers rushed forward again and grabbed the man. The friends who had fallen asleep on him all ran away in fear. One in particular would have been funny if it wasn’t such a sad night. As he ran off, a soldier reached for him and was left holding the man’s clothing. He ran naked through the trees for safety.

“The very sad prisoner now stood in the middle of the soldiers and looked up to the heavens. He sighed deeply and then his eyes looked over at me. I think that I stopped breathing as he looked deep inside me. He whispered so softly that not a single soldier heard him, ‘I do this for all of you.’

“I then watched them leave our quiet garden. Later I heard that he had died and many more miracles occurred that put what I had seen to shame. I had seen something so special that I’ve never forgotten that night.”

“How did you know about all the other miracles that occurred?” Thomas whispered.

Grandfather Nightingale jerked his head up. It was as though he had gone back to that night and was seeing it all again. “I heard all that from a rooster that saw some of the things that happened. It was a rather busy night in the city.”

He looked behind Thomas and said, “I think it is past your bedtime, young mouse.” He nodded at something behind Thomas.

The young mouse looked around suddenly, expecting to see Roman soldiers bearing down on him. Instead he saw his grandfather leaning on his walking stick. Thinking he would be in trouble for leaving home, he hung his head and waited for the punishment. 

“I see your curiosity got the better of you, eh?”

“Yes, sir,” replied the young mouse. 

“Let’s go home,” his grandfather said.

Thomas looked up in surprise. “You are not angry?”

“I knew you would do this. You kept asking so many questions.” His grandfather smiled. He looked up into the trees. “Thank you, Nightingale. I enjoyed hearing about that night again. It made my heart sing and cry at the same time.”

“Any time, Mouse. Anything for a brother.”

As they took their leave of the olive grove, Thomas looked over at his grandfather. “Why did he call you a brother? You are a mouse and he is a nightingale.”

Grandfather laughed as he looked back at the trees. “Everyone who that man looked at and whose lives he touched are brothers. We share something special that makes us family. A family that goes beyond who we are.”