I am unlocking my car door, when above me on the roof I hear a loud rustling. Ilook up to see a bird come sailing erratically off the second story and land, hard, into the tree just beside the car. The branch shakes for a split second, and then the bird falls, even harder, straight into the street below. On its back, almost motionless, feet twitching slightly, I know there is something terribly wrong with it. Instantly I know that it is dying. I cannot just leave it there in the street to be run over by a car, to die an undignified death (though it occurs to me now that perhaps that may have been the more humane thing to do, not painless, but likely swift). I cannot simply stand there and watch it happen. By this time, I am sobbing.
I scream for J. to come outside. We grab last night’s pizza box, and while making impatient morning drivers wait, slide the bird onto it and carry it to the side of the house, lay it gently in the grass. It doesn’t flinch, doesn’t struggle. That it does nothing at all, doesn’t resist, is almost more than I can bear. I stand there for too long watching it in the overgrown grass and weeds, eyes fluttering open and closed, breath shallow and labored. Quite large, but it is still a very young robin. It occurs to me that it will never see the soft, downy feathers on its chest give way to that deep, familiar, brick red color. I wonder if those same downy feathers I’ve been finding on the porch for the past few days were a warning, a sign leading up to this moment.
I am unable to pull myself together, spend the drive to work still crying, haunted by the image of that poor little trembling bird. My heart aches in a deep and twisty way. It is an ache I seem to feel frequently, for animals, but rarely for people. Only for a select few.
When I come home, I will stand in the darkness, bury the bird, say goodbye or something like it. The county health department does not want or need to know about dead robins, apparently. Only crows, owls, jays, and hawks. but that doesn’t mean this little life doesn’t matter.
As I often do, I wonder if this happens to other people, if it is ‘normal’ to feel this profound empathy for non-human creatures. Something so seemingly small as this morning, or something I simply see on television (the recent PBS show on hippos comes to mind), affects me deeply, evokes in me emotions that are constantly surprising, their strength, overwhelming and confusing. I have not always been this way, and I cannot help but wonder when this happened, when I became like this. More importantly, I am never sure exactly what to make of it when it happens. Seems like I need to do something, but I’m never sure what.