Last week, my daughter found a dove in the yard. It had fallen out of its nest and sat there in the grass, looking confused and bewildered. Of course it’s hard to read the emotions of birds. It might have been trying to kill itself, inching and pushing and finally managing to throw his distorted body from the tree. He might have been downright furious at the failed attempt.
Something was clearly wrong with the poor thing. It was too large to be a baby. Part of his feathers were grey and thick but his front half was a damp mass of skin and fuzz. He could hardly open his little beak and looked a little bloated. I placed him in a box lined with cloth and began to give him drops of warm water with a medicine dispenser. I set the box in a high place and just hoped he lived. I just couldn’t see him lying there all night in the grass, devoured by dogs or hawks or other preying things. Leave the guy alone. Even birds need a place to rest.
I read online that you can mash up egg yolks and wet dog food and feed it to injured birds, so I rushed to the kitchen to make a life-saving paste. There I was, trying to get the sick little thing to open its beak to take it in. Once I squeezed too hard and too much came out, his poor eye covered in wet yolky-dog food. I tried to wash it out but there he sat, wet and dirty, sick and sad. It was hopeless.
I fretted all night about that bird. I prayed that it would find a way to live. That it would fly off and join the other doves, free and glorious and shining with silver radiance. But the next morning it had a fluid pocket jutting out below it’s beak. I probably choked it to death with a tiny shred of dog food. Great. My mother-in-law tossed it in the dumpster. We’ll just tell the kids it flew away, she said. I wish she had at least broken its neck first and put it out of his misery. I hated that neighbors would toss garbage bags on top of him, just another piece of trash like used milk cartons or Frito bags.
I wish we could all die elegant deaths – not in a movie theatre riddled with stray bullets or driving to Subway in our Subaru to get a ham sandwich. We should all get to say our piece, kissing the heads of our little ones and quoting Thoreau. We should all get to make amends and die in our sleep with our best dress on. It fills me with rage that good people have to go so quickly. That they are off to the market for strawberries one day and the next they are pinned under a car or lying in a hospital where all the zig-zag lines go flat. I don’t like to think of living things contorted or bloated or twisted up in bullets. No one should die in the bottom of a dumpster covered in beer cans and gum wrappers.
But in the end, I suppose it doesn’t matter how we exit. It’s a temporary holding place, this life, where we muddle through and say our prayers and eat our broccoli. Someday, if I die a gruesome horrible death, falling out of my nest and landing in unfamiliar territory, no one needs to save me. No one needs to worry about feeding me mashed up food or dropping water in my parched throat. For I’m off to fly – my elegant wings spread before me, soaring through the air and breathing in the fresh smell of freedom. Like a bird. Back home.
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