“The little bird pecked at my heart, dislodging the strange fragment of a memory, a religious icon I’d seen on a Catholic prayer candle: Jesus holding his chest open, revealing a graphic, anatomically accurate heart. The image had seemed over-the- top at the time, yet I was beginning to understand the challenge it conveyed. To keep your heart open, no matter what, took tremendous courage and endurance. Yet Spirit cannot work with and through you until your defenses melt away.”
-Linda Kohanov from THE WAY OF THE HORSE
As I was walking in the concrete jungle of downtown Calgary recently, I happened to look down to see a tiny, featherless bird lying on the pavement. Its eyes were not open yet and there it was breathing heavily on its back. I looked up to see where it possibly could have fallen from. The nearest tree was far away and I figured it was a songbird of some sort that had built its nest in an awning of a nearby business. With no home to bring it back to, I scooped him up and carried him to my house. I felt anxious as I held on to this fragile creature. What if I couldn’t save its life? I made it a bed out of a warm blanket and laid it in there as I called the SPCA for advice. The overwhelmed volunteer gave me suggestions:
See if you can feed it worms or water to keep it hydrated. Can you bring it to us? We are swamped. No. That wasn’t an option as the SPCA is far from where I live in the SW. Can you get someone you know to drive him to us? No. Tried that too. Everyone is at work. So she gave me the address and I hung up feeling defeated.
I got out my turkey baster and tried feeding him some water but the bird would not open his mouth. I don’t know how long he was lying on that sidewalk or how far he fell, but it looked like it was WAY longer than the 20 minute feeding intervals these creatures normally need at this stage of life. So I grabbed my smudge bowl, lit it, and spoke to his spirit and asked him what he wanted me to do at this point.
He told me that he wanted to die in nature- not in a blanket in my apartment. He told me that he wants to live and will also accept death when it comes. As I watched him struggling to breathe, I felt all sorts of emotions well up inside me. I felt sad that I’d run out of options. I felt responsible. I felt pity. And he was having none of that. He did not seem particularly distressed. His breathing was laboured but he was relaxed. I took him out to Lougheed Gardens by my house and placed him in a nest of tissue paper underneath some tall flowers in a natural hollow in the soil. I said a prayer to his spirit thanking him for all the lessons he taught me in the span of an hour that we knew each other and to the nature spirits for being with him in his passing. I forgave myself for not being able to save him. And I let go feeling perplexed at life’s paradoxes and accepting the decision I made.
Four hours later on my way back home, I entertained fantasies of him having been adopted by a new mama or papa bird that happened to find him. I pictured him feeding well and looking sprightlier. After all, the universe does work in mysterious ways. It COULD happen- miraculous things do all of the time. But when I went to check on him, he lay lifeless in his human-made nest and the insects had started to do their work on his body. I stood there partly grateful that his spirit had gone back to the “Great Round” and partly in awe of how quick nature is to recycle and start new life from the parts of the dead. This was the greatest lesson for me. Nature didn’t languish in pity or grief. Life just is and death is a natural part of that. I was happy he didn’t die fried on a hot summer sidewalk and glad I participated in a gentler death experience for him in some way. I DO know that I mourned that bird today. And now here I am a little stunned of how such BIG love and gratitude could happen with a being I only knew for less than an hour. We are all indeed related and connected. I was reminded of that today.
Rare Bird by Eliza Gilkyson: