A baby bird fell out of his nest in my backyard the other day, a delicate, fuzzy creature with huge round eyes. He promptly opened his hungry little beak when I picked him up.
The nest was at least 15 feet up, maybe 20. It was impossible to return him to his home. We didn’t see mama bird anywhere; it was the afternoon of July 4, so maybe the fireworks in the neighborhood had scared her away. All of my usual backyard critters, even the boldest squirrels, seemed to be in hiding.
I held the sweet little thing close to me and he settled down. Who knew baby birds could be cuddly? My husband and I made a nest for him in a shoebox and he spent the night at our house as we tried to figure out what to do. He was a very young nestling with almost no feathers, so we had no idea what kind of bird he was or what to feed him. Numerous Google searches all told us the same thing: put his makeshift nest back in the tree and hope that his mother would find him and care for him. Feeding him the wrong thing would kill him. His mother was his only hope for survival.
The next day, ever hopeful, Ret took him to a local animal hospital that treats wildlife. Before they left, I told my little bird friend to get better, grow up to be a big strong bird, and come back to see me. He listened intently. But the folks at the clinic gave us the same advice: put him in the tree and hope that his mother would return.
In the meantime, I went to work and over the course of the day I received one piece of bad news after another. One of my friends had been in a car crash three days before; she was relatively unhurt but her car was totaled. Another dear friend had a serious accident on a water slide and was hospitalized with multiple injuries. A young man who worked in my building had just lost his battle with cancer. Last November he was fine. Now he’s gone, leaving behind a wife and two young children.
Then my mother called with the tragic news that my sister’s husband died, suddenly and unexpectedly.
My baby bird died. And sadness for this fragile little baby overwhelmed me. I wanted to save his little life. I couldn’t. No one could. Ret and I buried him under the tree in our yard. And we cried – hot, salty tears for a tiny baby that fell to the ground, grief for my friends and my sister, all the helpless beings everywhere and for everyone who desperately wants to help anyway, but fails.
Sometimes it’s all just too much for me, this life. I don’t understand it. I can’t bear to watch the news anymore.
Life is precious and fleeting. The Bible tells us we are like the grass, here today and gone tomorrow. We forget how fragile we are, how temporary. One false move – or even a true move, timed badly – and everything can change. We delude ourselves into thinking we have more control than we really do.
Just in case I missed the message, the reminders hit closer to home later in the week. I was on my way home from an appointment Thursday night, battling rush-hour traffic on I-516 when I got rear-ended. Fortunately, I’m not hurt – just a little sore – and the damage to my car is minimal.
The next day, I was on the phone with the insurance company when a call came in from my son Jared. He’d been visiting friends in Atlanta all week and was on his way home when he was sideswiped by a tractor-trailer on I-75. His car spun around in the heavy traffic, flipped over on its side, skidded 50 feet into the median, bounced off and somehow righted itself.
Miraculously, he escaped with a couple of abrasions, a banged-up elbow and a big bruise on his left knee. I’m overcome again, with immense relief and gratitude. Thank you, God, from the very depths of my being. I cannot imagine a life without Jared in it.
When my sons were teenagers and just starting to drive, no matter how late they stayed out, I waited up for them. No way could I trust the night to keep watch for me – there I’d sit, eyelids heavy, calling upon angels and sending my thoughts and prayers out into the universe to protect them. Somehow, even though my intellect (and their father) said this was ridiculous, my heart believed otherwise.*
As long as I waited for them, I could wrap them in my heart. Maybe my hopes and prayers can’t protect them physically, but I’m going to keep sending love and blessings anyway, all the time, to each of my dear ones.
I don’t understand any more about life today than I did before I picked up that little bird. But every so often, I think it’s good for me to be reminded of this great truth: All I have is this breath, this moment. No guarantees I’ll get another one. Sri Swami Satchidananda, founder of Integral Yoga® – my yoga – calls it the Golden Present. The past is gone. The future is a vapor. So it’s up to me, and to you, to make this moment count. Love people. Practice devotion. Breathe deeply. Work hard. Laugh out loud. Be kind. Take naps. Smell the flowers. Smile, even when you’re taking out the trash.
And please, wear your seat belts, my friends.
*Actually, there’s been a lot of research that seems to demonstrate that my superstitions are really super. When controlled groups of sick people were prayed for by unknown groups of prayer warriors, these patients had better medical outcomes than the un-prayed-for groups of patients. Forgive my nerdiness. And just send those positive vibes out into the universe. God knows we need it.