Yesterday was a day of contemplating life and death at our hearth.
It started when I was backing out of the driveway to run an errand with my daughter, and we noticed our 8-year-old under the large evergreen tree in front of our house, his abandoned bike lying on its side nearby.
“What’s going on?” I asked him after rolling down the window.
“Oh, there’s a baby bird here dying,” he said sadly.
He wasn’t doing anything rash. Just keeping vigil, you could say. It was the sweetest, saddest picture of one of God’s creatures looking after another.
It was enough, too, to have us stop the van to go take a peek. Sure enough, there was a fuzzy baby bird, struggling for life. It had been injured, and it was suffering. It opened its beak as if to ask for food, beg for help. We didn’t know what to do, what would be right. We noticed its bleeding leg. We felt utterly helpless.
The bird had some pine needles stabbing its tender skin. We pulled them out, and ran inside to find a box. A few minutes later, I emerged with one, and asked the kids to gather some grass. We knew we couldn’t probably save the little bird, but at the very least, we could offer it a soft, final resting place. Our little guy remained with the bird while we left to do our errand.
Later on, the kids discovered another young bird in the back yard. This one had already died. My daughter found another box, and carefully, with a paper towel, placed the bird inside. She found some tiny purple flowers and sprinkled the bird with them.
At nightfall, we went out to check on the first bird in the front, and found that the life had passed from it. There in the dark with the flashlight shining, we shed a few gentle tears for the bird, realizing it had indeed perished. The color had gone out of it. Its labored breathing had stopped.
Yes, I know it’s “just a bird,” but I’ve always been deeply affected by death of any kind. The loss of anything living — except perhaps a hungry mosquito — has never been something I could pass by easily. I didn’t want to bypass these events, either, nor did I want to belittle the sadness my children were feeling. So I joined them, honored their feelings, experienced the sadness of something passing from this world all over again.
What is it that compels us to our knees even when the dying thing is “just a bird?”
There is a sacredness in being among the living. All creatures of our God and king have a place, a reason for being here, and all come from the Creator and are part of His living masterpiece. To have one creature plucked from the picture feels tragic, not right.
A few hours before we’d discovered my son tending to the baby bird on the verge of death, my older daughter and I had joined some friends praying at our state’s only abortion facility. Quickly, I note the parallel. Just as I’d run to the shade of the evergreen tree to honor the dying baby bird, so, too, I’d run to be with others praying for the human babies who are perishing at that facility, and their human mothers who are also experiencing a death, no doubt, having felt forced to make a tragic, counter-natural decision to end the life within them.
Life is precious. We stop for dying things because we know this inherently and feel moved to honor life when it finds itself at the threshold between the living and the dead.
Sometimes, we can take action to save a life. Other times, all we can do is hold vigil and let God take care of the rest.