This has been an extremely rough month for sensitive souls like me. At times, I’ve felt overwhelmed and helpless in the face of so much suffering: Terrified children separated from their immigrant parents at our southern border. The shocking suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Tragic stories about victims of the opioid crisis. And another baby bird. It’s too much.
On Thursday afternoon, I was taking out the trash when I found it. A tiny, fuzzy, tailless nestling was in the dirt on the side of my house, crying for its mother and unable to stand up on its own. Although it was nearly 6 p.m., the temperature was a still blistering 95 degrees, the evening sun and humidity merciless. The bird was in distress. I couldn’t leave the little thing alone and helpless. My neighbor’s cat was out there somewhere.
I have no idea how the poor creature got there. The closest tree is about 20 feet away. Ret and I love feeding the birds, so there are always lots of feathered friends around my house, but to be honest, I don’t know where their nests are. There’s a cardinal family in the pine tree across the street, but this bird didn’t look like a cardinal. Scouting around for other nests, I didn’t find anything promising, nor did I see potential parent birds hovering around. And even if I found a nest, how would I know it was the right one? So I brought the baby inside and made it a little home in a box lined with a soft cloth and tissue paper.
This is our second experience with fragile baby birds. The first was on the 4thof July, 2016. You can read that story here (Fragile, July 9, 2016). In that instance, Ret and I researched as best we could. The staff at the local exotic bird hospital advised us to put the baby back in its nest, or create a makeshift nest, place it high in the tree and hope its mother would return for it. This didn’t feel right to us, but we tried it anyway, because we didn’t know what else to do. The baby died in the oppressive heat. It was horrible. We vowed never to do such a thing again. So if this new little bird was going to die, it wasn’t going to be because we didn’t try to save it.
As luck would have it, a friend connected me to a friend of hers, someone with many years of experience rehabilitating baby birds. She advised us on how to feed and care for it overnight, and gave us the name of a local animal hospital that could take over its care in the morning.
Feeling hopeful, Ret and I followed her instructions as best we could and were ecstatic when the hungry little bird tried to eat what we offered it. At bedtime, we tucked him into his box, covered him gently and placed him in the warmest spot we could find in our house.
But in the morning we awoke to find our sweet little bird had weakened dramatically overnight. And the recommended animal hospital informed us that they didn’t take in wild birds anymore, probably because of the futility. We prayed. We cried. We tried. Our little bird died anyway.
The intellectual part of me understands the high mortality rate of baby birds and acknowledges there was nothing I could do. It happens every day. Nestlings too young to fend for themselves are helpless, delicate, and need the care of real experts – like their parents. I know that. But this little bird was mine for a brief moment, so I’ll cry if I want to. Sometimes I just need to cry.
It’s my nature
There was a time when I was almost embarrassed by my soft-hearted nature. I can’t watch horror movies because they give me nightmares. I want to adopt every homeless dog, feed all the hungry children, save the elephants in Africa, visit every sick person in the hospital and wipe out the plastic trashing our oceans. Through some strange superpower that is both a blessing and a curse, I can often detect the emotional energy of people around me, and sometimes I feel their pain as my own. Over the years, I’ve come to accept this about myself and even appreciate it; it gives me greater perception in my relationships, and it often guides me as a yoga teacher. But sometimes it’s hard to be me.
As I dug a little grave beneath the gardenia bush, I talked to God about this. In Luke 10:20, Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”
So God, I hope you will receive this little one that I couldn’t save. I pray that he is now flying like an eagle in heaven with you. And please help me understand why I keep trying so hard, and caring so much, when I am powerless to end the suffering I see? Why do these things keep coming to me and breaking my heart? What do you want me to do?
Kneeling in the garden beside the little grave, my soul heard an answer: There is only love.
What does this mean? There seems to be a whole lot going on in the world that has nothing whatsoever to do with love. And I can’t change any of those things. It feels futile to try.
But … even though we couldn’t save our little bird’s life, at least he didn’t die alone in the heat and the dirt. He was cared for and comforted. His passage to the other side was gentler.
Perhaps it means: Carry on. Keep the faith. Because, when I am faced with the choice to risk my heart by caring, or protect it with indifference, there’s really no decision for me to make. Maybe compassion and mercy can’t change the world. But maybe they can. It starts with me.
There is only love.