How Can We Listen to the Canaries in Our Lives?

BY BETH SHAHA June 28, 2020

I am like a canary.

Years ago, canaries were used to help determine if a mine was safe from poisonous toxins in the air. Miners couldn’t sense these toxins, only canaries could. A canary is built sensitive enough to feel the toxins. If the toxins were too strong, the canary would stop singing, signaling the dangerous atmosphere in the mine.

Friends – we are in a mine – a cultural atmosphere of better, faster, more – and often an ignorance of a greater perspective. And although I fly thru it right along with you, I wonder….Are we ok? Are we living our best life? Are we clear on what others are going though? Pause and ask – How can we listen to the canaries in our life? How do we sense when something isn’t right?

I am always looking. Always sensing. Always feeling. Like a canary, I’m simply built that way. What’s the best way to live my day, my time, my service and BE Love? Where am I needed?

Ten years ago, I followed a call to Be Love. I found myself sitting on the cold dirt floor in a tiny room in Apalina, Romania next to a short, older woman. She was somewhere between 60-80 years old. It was hard to tell because she had lived such a hard life, and it had taken a noticeable toll. Her back was so hunched I needed to be on the ground to be able to look into her blue eyes as she sat on what had once been a chair. I was drawn to her. I held her hand in mine. Her wrinkles were as deep as the valley. Her white hair was held back in a dark grey babushka. Noise from the community surrounded us: dogs barking, kids squealing, movement on the other side of the very thin walls. The air was thick and it smelled of all things burning. This was not the familiar campfire smell of my youth. This was a smell that could tell a story. Even now, if I try hard enough, I can still smell it.

Many eyes peeked in the door to see who we were. Her home where we sat was about as big as a regular sized bathroom in an American house. It was dark. One small lightbulb dangled from the ceiling. Five of us filled that cramped space with a pastor for a “house visit”. I sat on the floor while others rested on a dirty rug. She honored us by serving packaged cookies and Coke. We didn’t dare deny her hospitality. A barrel in the corner held a fire for heat and cooking. She lived alone, but her family lived all around her in rooms that leaned on her solid internal structure. In those rooms, there was plenty: adultery, infections, miscarriages, abuse, hopelessness, physical pain, teen births, sadness and death.

Through a translator, she told us her story very thoughtfully and deliberately. She had hope, light, and life and wanted badly to impact her community. She knew God could work through her and create miracles. She was confident about that. In very simple words she asked us to pray for her to do just that. So we did. Then, from somewhere inside me came the only thing I knew to do. I started to sing. I am not a singer. However, I am a love bringer. I am not afraid to share what my heart wants to share. I began to sing: This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine. Let it Shine, Let it Shine, Let it Shine…

It was all I had to offer this woman. In that moment, it was all that was needed. I was only there to share love, embrace that space with her, and exist in that moment. God would do the rest. I knew it.

I knew her. She knew me. I was one with her in that cave. Two canaries singing to alert the troops, call in backup, and to assist as best as we could as a vehicle for God in her community.

I was forever changed by this moment. I went to simply follow a call to bring ministry to strengthen couples in Apalina. There were many moments that impacted me during that mission. However it was this extra job and this particular house visit that had me on my bum on the dirt and looking up into her eyes. My connection with her drew me back to the same Apalina community twice more in the following years.

A large part of my heart will always be there on that floor in Apalina. I now understand that my authenticity and my innate sensitivity is a gift to myself and others. It is a sweet canary song, and I will keep singing. Won’t you join me?

I am like a canary.

In furthering her love of coming along side others, Beth Shaha is becoming a Life Coach thru the Martha Beck Wayfinder program. She also enjoys time with her family and friends and can always be found near the water. This column is coordinated by, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.

This article was published in the Centre Daily Times on June 28, 2020.