Life Imitating Art

Last week, I wrote a piece about a cuckoo bird who transcended his predetermined role in life to save his nest mates. I chose a family of Indigo Buntings because I had just finished reading a novel (“Where the Forest Meets the Stars”, by Glendy Vanderah) in which the viewpoint character is a researcher studying the nesting behavior of Indigo Buntings. This book manages to keep alive, beyond its final page, uncertainty about whether a nine-year old girl is actually an alien, as she claims, or someone compensating for traumatic events that forced her to leave her childhood home.

One feature of this novel, which I found true to my own experience, is how one person can change your life, as if they have fallen to earth from a distant star.

Why do I think that this work of fiction reflects ‘real’ events in my life? Well, last Tuesday morning, sitting outside with our two dogs and our cat, one of our dogs was poking her nose at something on the stones next to the brick wall at the back of our house. Checking it out, we discovered a featherless chick, who looked somewhat like a miniature alien, trying unsuccessfully to stand on its spindly legs.

We followed the guidelines given on their phone recording by Wildlife Rescue and put the chick in a basket attached to our Mulberry tree with a bed of torn up tissue for bedding. The advice to do this said the parents might be watching and would continue feeding him in this new ‘nest’—which would be the best outcome for this infant bird.

We never saw an adult bird at this basket, but after the first night there was a small bit of bird poop on some of the tissue, which gave us hope that something was happening. That second day, we wedged a two-inch-deep box into the top of the five-inch-deep basket, and lifted the chick into it, in case it would be easier for a parent bird to land in a platform with dimensions more like that of a natural nest.

Then on Thursday morning, now two days and nights into our vigil, I climbed up the step ladder and discovered the chick hidden under a layer of tissue, now unable to turn over onto its front. He was leaning against one edge of the box, breathing heavily, and several things were now clear: he wasn’t receiving any food or liquid; and he was about to die. There seemed nothing left to do but to pray for him to have a safe passage and not to suffer too much longer in this world.

But we called Wildlife Rescue again, which for all of April has been on reduced hours (10:00am—1:00pm), and were surprised when a woman answered.

She said to bring the chick in. Amazingly, he started to cheep and to open his beak in the way he had been doing earlier, clearly in hopes of finally receiving some life-sustaining nourishment. And the woman who came out to receive the shoebox in which we had transported this tiny bird to the bird sanctuary, still chirping faintly the whole time, looked into the box and said, “He’s hungry”.

Isn’t life amazing?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone we love could sustain that desire to reach out and be welcomed by other living beings? And wouldn’t it be wonderful if they were then welcomed by someone with the right knowledge and with the caring willingness to share that knowledge when and where it is so urgently needed across this planet?

There is a Buddhist image about how wisdom and compassion are like the two wings of a bird; and with only one of those wings the bird cannot fly. If we only recognize that we are caught up in illusions, which present themselves as real, then life seems meaningless. And if we only experience the pain and suffering around us, our hearts won’t be able to bear it and will sink into the ocean depths like a stone.

But, balanced between the two wings of understanding and caring, we may be able to care without falling into despair.

Perhaps this tiny bird flew—or rather fell to ground before he could go anywhere on his own—into our lives to remind us that we too still have hearts; and that we too yearn to fly, as we struggle to lift the wings of understanding (that nothing is as it appears to be) and of caring (for this world that is the only place any of us have to live).

And to glimpse this, I needed a bird suspended between life and death, raising its yellow beak toward me, two feet from my face.

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