|This isn't the sparrow I found. I didn't take any pictures. At first I wished I had. But then I was glad I hadn't.|
Several weeks ago, I was walking down 17th street from 5th avenue, toward Union Square, planning to swing by the Pret at the corner of 17th and Broadway for a large English breakfast with lots of milk and sugar before my doubles trapeze class at Om Factory when I heard the sound of something hitting the ground. Not a crack, not a crash...a soft, but solid thunk...I didn't think about what made me turn so suddenly to see what it was at the time, but I think my animal brain had already recognized that particular sound: a body hitting pavement.
A very small body.
A fledgling sparrow.
I hurried over to it, knelt down for a closer look, then looked up. A chattering bluejay hopped back and forth on the awning, triumphant. "You bastard!" I hissed. It's my go-to insult for parties that won't/can't hear me...dating to when I was a little kid...but I'll save that story for another time.
The sparrow wasn't moving much, and it it was bleeding. I could see its tiny heart beating through its skin. I picked it up and cradled it gently in my hand. It didn't struggle.
"It's too late," said a middle-aged man, who must have seen the whole thing as well.
"I know." I said. And I knew that it was. Even if the bird's injury's weren't fatal, I couldn't get it back to its nest, and though it looked close to old enough to survive on its own, it was too injured to avoid predators or look for food.
But I couldn't just leave it there.
I stood up and started walking, wrapping my arms gently around the little bird, trying to send it reiki, love, comfort, anything. Just to let it know it didn't have to be afraid. I had a vague idea that I would take it to the park, somewhere green, maybe I could hide it well enough so that no predators would bother it until it had died. When I stopped for the light at the corner, I checked on it again. Its beak had stopped moving. I concentrated on my fingers, willing there to be a pulse there. There wasn't.
The little sparrow had died. "I'm sorry." I whispered.
The light changed. I crossed the street. I ducked my head a little, not wanting to share the tears leaking from my eyes with the ocean of strangers in Union Square Park. I went up the first staircase, past the cafe tables, climbed over a low fence, tromped through the mulch, knelt down by a dense bush with big leaves.
For a moment I hesitated, afraid I was wrong, and the bird was still alive, but its body was already cooling. I gently lay it down under the bush. I paused.
I thanked the universe for the life of this sparrow, and I asked that its energy come back into the earth as more love for all of us.
I prayed the prayer my grandparents had always said, at the end of grace before meals:
"Eternal rest grant unto them, oh Lord, and let the perpetual light shine on them. Amen."
I covered the sparrow with a leaf. I noticed the blood on my hand for the first time.
"I'm sorry." I said. I swallowed my tears. I walked back to Pret. I got my tea. I went to class.
And because it's Om Factory, Syl asked me how I was, and told her I was said, and she asked me why, and then, to my surprise, I started crying. Hard.
There are two distinct truths at work here:
One: sparrows are plentiful, and jays are known to raid nests and kill the young there, to protect and expand their territories. Mother Nature played out a familiar chain of events, a chain of events that hurt no species, and perhaps even long-term helped the species by ensuring the survival of only the fittest sparrow young.
Two: a tiny, innocent life was ended in a violent way. There was nothing I could do to save that life. All I could do was be there, to try to offer comfort to ease the passage, to honor this life.
I've been challenging my heart to be open to both of these truths, to live both of these truths, ever since.
I choked out the story to Syl, blew my nose, splashed water on my face, took a deep, shuddery breath, and said,
"You don't usually get confronted with death in your daily life."
She told me I did a good thing, that I was there for bird in its last moments.
I believe that. I want to believe that.
You don't usually get confronted with death in your daily life. But without death, there is no life.