Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Bird and a Car

I tend to think everything is a symbol and have been wrestling with an event that happened to me last week in Vermont.

My husband and I had just spent a satisfying few hours at my son’s boarding school—dinner with one of his teachers, followed by an end-of-school jazz concert. Our son plays the trumpet, and we were glad to see him performing.  We’d been attending his concerts for twelve years, the first one when he was five years old.

You could see summer in the students’ faces.  A professional photographer, hired by the school, was stopping groups of kids for smiles and arm-in-arm pictures.  We didn’t linger after the concert because our son had to finish an English paper, so we made our way back to my brother’s house--driving down a pretty road with farms on either side and the sky full of dusk and warmth.  I felt happy and was recounting the goodness when a flock of birds flew low across the road and we felt a light thump under the car. 

That thump sent me into gloomdom.   Me and the sky got very black.  I asked my husband to please drive slowly, fearing more unseen birds, and I became angry and disoriented because my moment of pleasure once winging through me had been smacked down, and now my thoughts twisted over whether we had killed or injured the bird and how it was all my fault.  We turned onto the state road and stopped at a gas station about 2 miles from where the bird collided under the car. We needed milk for our morning coffee.  

When I came out of the store, a small bird was hopping around the pavement next to the car one wing pointing up at an odd angle.  It was heart ripping.  Somehow it had got stuck under our car. Of course the poor thing was terrified, flapping and hopping on the oil-stained pavement near our car tires and blinded by the store’s bright security spot lights. I didn't want to leave it.  So we tried to nudge the bird (the size of my hand, duff-colored and sleek) into a paper bag but it kept trying to fly away.  In its panic (and mine—I was shaking), it flopped onto the busy state road.  My husband, good man that he is, walked out to the middle of the road and calmly put his hand up to stop traffic. And stop they did (which is why I adore Vermont and my husband). A small line of cars waited patiently as my husband shepherded the panicking bird across the road.  One man opened his car window and said quietly, “It looks like his wing is broken.”
Finally, the bird got over to the other side onto a thick, green lawn and managed, after another huge effort (and my failure yet again to get it into the paper bag), to disappear under an evergreen tree next to a white, clapboard house.  At that point, we stood there in the dark.  We could have tried to fetch it, but then what?  I guess I felt that we had done all we could do for the dear bird.   I said a prayer for it and for the rest of the night and the next day kept thinking about it and wondering about it under that tree.  How was it doing? Was it still alive?  Would a cat find it?  Would it drink water beading on the tree’s low lying limbs? Would it have the strength to poke for  bugs? Would the person who lived in the house next to the tree discover it?  Save it?
My heart hurt over this as I tried to understand why it had happened at that moment and how it was my fault. Was the bird accident a portent of something to come?  
The next day I learned my father was admitted to the hospital for chest pains and weakness. But all his tests were negative and after an overnight stay, he was sent back home. I also learned that a friend’s neighbor, a young father in his forties, was rushed to the hospital. A healthy man, something had gone wrong neurologically. It was sudden and awful. The neighbor is still in the hospital.  All his neighbors, including my friend, are rallying for him, taking on chores, helping his family.  I’m sending prayers. 

And I keep thinking about that bird.

Last night I googled “how to help a bird with a broken wing” and discovered that I could have done more. I could have taken the bird back to my brother’s house and found a vet the next day.  I could have tried to wrap its wing with gauze.  I could have. I could have.

But I didn’t. So I try to let this go. I thank the bird for touching me with its spirit.  It’s so sad, and yet so very much what nature throws at us all the time. --My father’s chest pains; my friend’s neighbor’s seizure.

I still think I need to try harder next time. One instant that bird was soaring across the road and then its life changed, and so did mine.