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The Baby Bird Lesson

I wrote this piece some years ago on another blog that I never really got off the ground. This was written in 2010 when my children were little:

It is a Monday afternoon and the kids and I are at home. Gracie is getting ready for speech therapy or rather she is playing awaiting nothing at all. Logan is getting on my nerves. I am contemplating dinner – the one that I would like to prepare – organic, wholesome, not out of a box and coming to terms with the reality that we will have something out of a box in the freezer. I comfort myself that it will be vegetarian…not that anyone but my husband cares. The kids would be fine if I let them eat cereal and mac and cheese for every meal. Then my mind drifts and I wonder if I am like most moms or am I just a failure. Because that is the term that you use when you can't think up a nutritious dinner…failure! I am so dramatic!

There is a knock at the door and I am jarred from my preoccupation with dinner into the reality of Gracie's speech therapist. Shortly thereafter, my husband arrives home and provides much needed respite from trying to manage Logan's constant interference with Gracie's therapy so I can sit and be present and delight, if just for a minute, my daughter's progress in learning to speak.

But not for long…I am drawn from therapy to yelling coming from the backyard. I jump up and run out there. It is my husband yelling at the cat to drop the fledgling mockingbird. Tom is successful in getting the cat to drop it. I grab a box and my gardening gloves from the garage and scoop up the tiny bird. It is not harmed but very scared. I see its mother hovering above me but she keeps her distance and watches me. After we are sure the bird is not mortally wounded, we begin trying to find the nest so that we can reunite it with its mother and safety. My son is very excited about this whole ordeal and has lots of ideas about what we should do with the bird – it can sleep with him – really he doesn't mind. I sit him down and explain why that is not possible and encourage him instead to help me find the nest. This is complicated by the fact that the nest is somewhere in the hedge that is in full blossom and full of bees. Patience not being my strong suit, I quickly delegate this nest finding task to my husband and son and return to my daughter's therapy session and my thoughts of dinner.

Shortly, my husband yells again for me to come there. He has found another bird hiding underneath the hedge and we decide to return this baby bird to its family. Out of the box and into the hedge with a running start! Once we are a safe distance away the mother bird quickly swoops down and the family is reunited…for the moment. The baby bird will not stay underneath the hedge! It continues to come out into the open, dangerous yard and chirp its little heart out. We get the dogs, cats and kids inside and trust that all will be well. Gracie finishes her therapy session and so ends the bird drama. Now I can devote my entire attention to the dinner drama. I decide on pasta and begin.

As I am standing at my kitchen window, I see the little bird darting around the yard. I can hear the mother bird calling to it and see her swoop down to herd it into the bushes. But the little bird won't listen to its mother and in a horrifying instant is killed by a crow. My husband runs out to save it but this time he is too late. He helplessly watch life leave the little bird and looks to me at my window. I am grief stricken and destroyed. I watched the life drain out of that being as I stand helplessly at my kitchen sink. I was totally powerless and I hated it! My husband leaves the fracture, feathered body where it lay because he is just too distraught to do anything else. He comes in for dinner.

At the dinner table, my son, fully aware of all that has occurred, is full of questions. Why did the crow do that? Why are crows so mean? Will a crow eat him or Gracie? Should we try to kill crows for killing baby birds? My answers for him are limp and unsatisfying even to me because I am hating the crow too. I am grief stricken that the life that I just held in my hands a few minutes ago is now gone forever.

While I am grappling with my sorrow, I find that I could careless about dinner and don't think that I will be eating anyway. My son is relentless and the questions are coming rapid fire now. I want to escape into my room and let Tom handle this but know that I can't. I turn to my son and begin. I tell him that crows aren't bad, they just are the way they are. They eat other animals and that is how they survive. It isn't about being bad or good. It is just that some beings kill other beings to survive and some don't. And in my explanation to him I realize why I am a vegetarian – I am a being that doesn't kill to survive and this thought brings me great peace. This peace helps me to endure the rest of the evening and the following days of my son's searching questions.

This event has caused me to realize that as a mother, I can only do so much to protect my kids. I am just like that mother bird. I can scold, herd them to safety, and swoop down on them but that ultimately my kids will exercise free will. They are beings in their own right and their ideas are going to cause them to behave in ways that I do not understand, agree with or condone. Devastation is the focal emotion when I very painfully take in how much like that momma bird I am. I close my eyes and pray with all my being that my "little birds" meet with a kinder fate. Still, I am overwhelmed by powerlessness. After all the running around to save the bird from the cat, it was killed anyway. It is times like this that I cannot rectify that it feels that some beings are on this planet just to be killed. I cannot get past how unfair and wrong that feels. I find myself a bit despondent about life and death. But my son's comment quickly jerks me into the present. "Mommy, crows are bad and I am going to kill the next one I see!" Jarred by his honest, deeply felt and adult like speech, I get down on my knees, look him in the eyes and say, "then there would be two dead birds and don't we feel bad enough that there is one?" And like a bolt, I realize that killing is sad no matter what the circumstance, it is not what makes us bad. There is no good and bad – just my judgment about events that happen every day. I want to explain this to my son but how can I? It has taken me almost 40 years to even begin to get this lesson and despite my strong desire, I cannot give it to him. It is a lesson that he will have to learn himself and my job as his mother is to be present and available when he seeks to access my wisdom.

I feel in awe of the cycle of life which includes death. Somehow this experience has made me feel more connected to other beings. I see more clearly the cause and effect of all actions. That there is no vacuum in which one action does not deliver unintended consequences. I expect to feel depressed and lost but instead of feeling destroyed by this experience, I feel strangely uplifted. My witnessing and participation in this event has affirmed my vow to not cause harm in this life. That I want to be in this world in a peaceful, loving and non-harming way. I know that my life changed because of the little bird and I know that my son was affected too. And as always, I don't know what lesson he learned from this experience. What I do know is that I was able to be present, honest and loving as we tried to sort it out together. I know that I may not set a good example of compassionate living everyday but on this day I did. When I look out my kitchen window, the little bird is gone. The crow came back and took his dinner home. And I am relieved. Relieved that I don't have to dispose of the body and that the little birds death was not completely in vain. Another being will live another day because of its sacrifice. I do not like the way world works but if I just allow life to unfold, I get a chance to be present. And the present is the only place that I have a chance to protect my own "little birds".

Written September 17, 2010 Maitri Momma Blog

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