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Maggie Sergio

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The Story of Penny, a Hummingbird, and the Power of Saint Francis

Posted: 03/07/11 10:21 AM ET

It was an alarming phone call from my ex-husband Mark one September afternoon in 2003. What followed were a series of events that most find hard to believe, and if these events didn't actually happen to me, I would have a tough time believing what had transpired. This is a true story of faith and a demonstration of how animals serve us as guides and teachers. The responsibility is ours to pay attention to the often subtle signs that appear to each of us whilst on our individual journey. The concept of animal totems is not something "new age" but a rediscovery of ancient beliefs and knowledge, revered and embraced by indigenous cultures around the globe.

Circling back to my alarming phone call. It was an urgent and quick conversation about one of our dogs, Penny. She resided with Mark after we divorced in 2002, and we both shared in her custody. Penny is a very sweet and timid Rhodesian Ridgeback mix that had lived a life of terrible abuse. I first stumbled upon her after a spontaneous decision one day to visit San Francisco animal control. When I first came upon her in her concrete cell, she was cowering in the corner, favoring her rear leg which had a steel rod surgically implanted just a few days before. The surgery was necessary to help set a compound fracture that she had suffered. Penny had been cruelly thrown down a flight of steps by her "guardian." She carried deep physical and psychological scars, and as a result is wary and fearful of strangers. It would be accurate to say she has a spooky nature.

After adopting her, it didn't take long for us to gain Penny's trust. She is a loving, playful soul that has the heart of a lion. She is very content to express her love and gratitude around the clock and, as with any dog's love, it is unconditional. If ever a being were to represent true joy, it would be Penny.

The words, "Penny is gone, I've been looking for her for the last five hours!" suddenly and drastically changed my world and my priorities. Finding her became my only focus for one week, everything else became irrelevant. I spent six days searching for her. Hiking the rugged coastal hills of San Mateo County, calling her name and hoping my beloved border collie Lucy could pick up Penny's scent. Hundreds of lost dog posters were made and distributed; animal shelters and police contacted, and I had phone consultations with two dear friends known for their intuitive gifts. Both my psychic friends assured me Penny was alive and we would get her back. However, it was Bobbie's words, "she is scared to death and I feel she is trapped somewhere" that cut right through me. Phone calls started to come in. People reported seeing her darting in and out of traffic, frightened and panicked. I wished I could turn off my empathic abilities because feeling her pain and how frightened she was became unbearable at times.

That Saturday night, after six days of searching, crying, and not eating or drinking nearly enough, I had worked myself into quite a frazzled state. Overcome with emotion and exhaustion, the image of Saint Francis of Assisi popped into my head as I paced my house and cried what felt like a river of tears.

The sudden appearance of Saint Francis, the patron saint of animals felt like an invitation to me. If ever I needed the help of one of the truly big guns out there in the Universe, now was it. I accepted the invite I had just received and got on my knees in front of my altar to ask for help, which consisted of just two things. I asked Saint Francis to please comfort her, and guide her back home. I repeated this request a few times until it felt like a personal three-way mantra between Saint Francis, Penny and me. It was during this deep prayer that I began to feel something other-worldly and sublime happening. I am struggling how to describe or explain this energy in words. The best I can do is to say it felt like every single cell in my body ignited and was lit up like a Christmas tree. And, with that feeling was a knowing that I was being heard.

The following Sunday morning I decided to go to the local high school where
Penny was last seen. This was some six miles from Mark's house and I wondered how much ground she had covered being on the run, and if her emotional state was any better or worse than mine. As I got more lost dog posters out of my car and walked towards the school to hang them up, a fluttering on the ground about ten feet to my right caught my attention. At first I thought it was a dragonfly or some other large insect. As I got closer and watched, I noticed it was something tiny that kept trying to lift off and fly. It would fumble at about a foot off the ground and then come crashing down again fluttering pitifully about. After witnessing this a few times I went over and scooped up this poor creature and discovered it was a hummingbird. In my open palm the hummingbird lay in a supine position, completely surrendered, with the smallest of wings spread out. I could feel the words, "help me."

Looking more closely I noticed he was caught up in the silk from a spider web or perhaps a massive cobweb. This seemed to be quite immobilizing and I also noticed how rapid his breathing was. I was amazed at how small his feet were, and was awed by the overall "tiny-ness" of this little bird. I wondered how long this poor guy had been struggling. I got some water from my car and sat on the ground with him. I proceeded to remove the gunk as best I could, washing him down with bottled water to remove any remaining web residue. After a few minutes of he flew from my hands and landed in a nearby tree. I watched him for several minutes, going through the feather fluffing that birds go through when drying off from a bath. Then, without warning he zipped off the branch doing something I call the hummingbird dance, which is an aerial display of avian acrobatics at lightning speed. About 20 seconds into his dance he flew out of sight.

Without a doubt, this entire hummingbird encounter delivered a message and more. As an animal totem, hummingbirds represent joy and they are symbols for accomplishing what seems impossible. This message did represent Penny and our current situation. I found it comforting that in the act of a message being delivered, I was also being called to be of service for a fellow creature in need. I called Mark to tell him that Penny was coming home.

About 24 hours later I received a phone call from Mark, informing me that Penny just showed up at the front door. Her paws were bloody from the constant running; she was skinny, dirty and happy to be home.

Coincidence? One could probably argue that, but I would counter that my favorite definition of coincidence is that it is God's way of remaining anonymous.