I’m sitting here all alone tonight, in my quiet house, on my quiet acre, in my quiet zone, in front of this illuminated computer screen. It’s cozy and warm here, but outside it’s dismal. Three degrees and the wind is blowing the tree branches around furiously, forming frightening claw-like shadows against the grey twilight sky. The rain pelts down with relentless precision, dripping from the same spots in our gutters, as it always does, to form puddles on the deck below. Typical west coast wet winter, the type of weather that makes you want to crawl under your covers and sleep until the sun comes out. Bears have the right idea.
I’m glad I’m not a street person right now because that would suck. There aren’t many in the town where we live, apart from ‘Happy’ who can be seen daily on the main drag and is sort of famous. He’s made the cover of the local newspaper a couple of times, simply by being the only real visible street person in this ritzy seaside town. He says he prefers living outdoors. I guess there is a freedom in that, but most people just think he has a mental illness. I guess there is a freedom in that too. His entire life fits into a shopping cart. Kind locals give him food and stuff all the time so he doesn’t want for much.
That said, I’m grateful I’m on the inside tonight.
A couple of months ago I heard a loud thud on the deck while I was working. Strangely, almost instinctively, even though I had never heard a flying bird hit glass, it evoked an instant heart swell of sadness, like we were connected in some way. I knew what I would find when I went out back to look.
Sure enough, the little sparrow lie there, still warm, neck broken, lifeless at the base of the panoramic windows we have off the library. In 10 years we’ve never had a bird tragedy like this, so I felt super guilty. Guilty for being alive, guilty for sitting in my cozy house and especially guilty for having Centra replace my ugly, single pane windows with big, shiny, beautiful new ones last summer. Poor little guy. Maybe he saw some Shakespeare out of the corner of his eye and BLAM – a Shakespearian end.
I ran to get some rubber gloves and a shoe box.
When the kids got home from school I told them what happened and we all decided that it would only be right to give him a proper burial in our backyard. Angella decorated the outside of the box with markers and stickers and put some pink paper hearts inside. Jett gave the dead bird a Hot Wheel. Then we dug a small hole, put him in and prayed him off to bird heaven. I promised to stop using Windex and switch to a more environmentally friendly alternative.
For the next few months, every time I heard a similar thud sound my heart sunk, wondering if another poor bird had met with the same untimely demise. Then I forgot all about it, until yesterday.
Same thud, same sick feeling in my stomach. I didn’t want to look. “Bird murderer…” echoed in my head.
Then, before I had a chance to even open the patio door, our son walked up with a little Thrush perched on his finger, just like pet. “Look mom! He just jumped up on my hand!” Jett was so excited. Weird.
The bird’s neck wasn’t broken, he could stand upright, but he was letting Jett pet him. He just sat there looking stunned, uninterested in flying. I took him off Jett’s hand and he tried to chirp and nothing but a breathy squawk came out. I could almost see the little halo of stars encircling his head. I pondered whether or not to put him back outside in light of the fact that we had a yard full of potential predators.
“Can we keep him mom? He’s really friendly.” Jett asked.
“Well….” I figured that maybe this was a chance to redeem myself for his deceased friend a few months back. “Maybe, just for tonight.” I said.
Luckily, we had a decorative bird cage on hand (that I almost took to the Salvation Army last week) because you just never know when you’ll have the Forrest Gump of birds drop by.
We gave him some bird seed, a little dish of water and a face cloth to sleep on and ‘Gumpy’ settled right in. Our golden retriever lay at the top of the landing focused on the cage and growling under her breath all night.
I did a little internet research after the kids went to bed and discovered that the little thing was most likely in shock. Hopefully he’d be better by the morning; otherwise I might be railroaded by our small children into keeping another pet. I already nearly killed our Beta fish in August (he looked hungry all the time…), but that’s a whole other story; what lengths a parent will go to, to save a dying fish for their kid. My dad just flushed old ‘Bubbles’ down the toilet … but it’s a different world now.
I half expected to find him with his little feet sticking straight up in the morning. He made it through the night however, quite well, had strewn bird seed in every direction, splashed the water everywhere and peed and pooped all over the place, including the cage, the floor and the wall. For an immature instant, I was mad that our ingrate guest had messed up my house so much. And he panicked when we came near the cage: totally back to normal. Whew! I told the kids that bird adoption was no longer an option.
We released him later and watched him hop, joyful and weightless, branch to branch through our backyard redwoods like he hadn’t missed a beat. Then, he flew off into the distance with his friends, simply happy to have his freedom (and his bird brain) back.
I felt vindicated.
You know, life is kind of like that. We chug along, in a fog, doing our day to day stuff when suddenly, BLAM, we slam into a window. Something happens that just rocks us to our core. If we are lucky, we have someone who will let us be all messy and still love us anyway. And just like that bird, we need to dust ourselves off and carry on in whatever capacity we can. The world keeps going on with or without us. Events shape us and have the capacity to change us for the better, if we let them.
My best friend Petra died of a brain tumour in 2008. Another good friend passed away last March of a massive stroke. Yet, I still talk on my cell phone and eat McDonald’s. Loser.
Sometimes I wonder what happened to ‘Happy’. What was his window? Maybe he’s not crazy at all. Maybe he’s smarter than everyone. I heard that at one time, long ago, he was quite successful.
“I think that a person who is attached to riches, who lives with the worry of riches, is actually very poor. Riches, both material and spiritual, can choke you if you do not use them fairly. For not even God can put anything in a heart that is already full. One day there springs up the desire for money and for all that money can provide – the superfluous, luxury in eating, luxury in dressing, trifles. Needs increase because one thing calls for another. The result is uncontrollable dissatisfaction.” – Mother Theresa
Maybe ‘Happy’ isn’t so bird brained after all….