An Elton John song goes like this:
How come birds don’t fall from the sky when they die
How come birds always look for a quiet place to hide
These words can’t explain what I feel inside
Like birds I need a quiet place to hide”
I like this song for a lot of reasons, and it came to mind yesterday when I came home from work and found a sparrow huddled up next to the garden shoes on our front porch, breathing its wee breaths and blinking a little. I figured it must have biffed on the front window and was stunned, or maybe broke a wing. We have stray cats in the hood that may have ambushed it from behind a flower pot, but there didn’t seem to be any blood anywhere, so it seemed likely it was pilot error. I retreated and went in by the back door.
We got a cardboard box that had a top we could close and put a big fluffy blue towel in it, shut the cat in the basement, and then walked around to the front porch. In drawing close carefully, our 4-year-old daughter Mara lost her balance and fell over on the pile of wood by the front door and started crying loudly. The bird stayed put, so it was clear that it could not fly away.
While Angela checked Mara over for splinters, I picked the bird up as carefully as if I was picking up a bit of cloud and deposited it on the towel in the box. It struggled just a little, but didn’t make a peep. We closed the box, carried it through the house, and set it on our balcony, where the sparrow could spend the night without fear of being eaten by the neighborhood cats. We opened the box and arranged it so that the opening was on the side, so the bird could just walk out and fly away.
We explained to Mara that the bird may die, and that there was little we could do if it had broken its neck or something (actually, I think if it had broken its neck it would have been dead when I found it but hey, I’m not a doctor). Mara understood, and at her bedtime we asked God to please remember this bird and if possible, help it recover.
It was still there when I checked before going to bed several hours later, and I had a bad feeling we’d find it cold and still in the morning. I thought about what I would say to Mara as we buried the little creature’s body. She currently believes that when people or animals die they ascend, whole, to heaven – except for their bones (someday I’ll relate the unfortunate story behind why she knows that the bones stay here). But when we got up Mara and I peeped in and saw that only a couple of healthy white turd squirts lay where our visitor had been.
We were grateful for little mercies, and ran to tell Angela that the bird had flown.