Tuesday, March 13, 2012
Two days ago or maybe three, a tufted titmouse flew into our sunroom and got himself trapped. Titmice are among my favorite birds, sweetly-proportioned with soft grey feathers and huge black eyes.
Our daughter, Clara, adores birds. She has studied them for years, and she knows them by name as well as song. She had already opened the doors and was trying to direct the titmouse to freedom; but he was frantic with fright. He was casting himself wildly from wall-to-wall-to-wall.
I didn’t realize the cat was watching. Of course, the flutter woke his instincts; and when the poor bird dove low to the ground, Pippin pounced. Clara was screaming. Moses was horrified.
Clara grabbed Pippin and shook him, demanding that he let the bird go, but Pip was alive with the hunt. After five seconds or so, the titmouse fell out of Pippin’s mouth, and he flapped to the floor. Those soft eyes were dark and wide, and his beak was wide with panting. I watched his chest rise and fall like a tiny bellow pumped too fast. There was no recognition in his stare. He was glazed in shock and in horror.
I made the kids go inside and locked the cat in the garage. Then I sat there with the poor little bird, watching him breathe. Surely that bite was not strong enough to kill him. There was no mark on his body. No broken skin. His feathers were barely scuffed.
I was afraid he would try to flap around and damage himself further, so I put on a pair of garden gloves and lifted him ever-so-gently. I carried him outside to a spot in the shade where he could look up into the sky and see that he was safe and free.
Yet, he was now one who had been attacked. The horror was over; and yet, he lived it still. I could watch it replaying over and over in those startled eyes.
I knelt, distraught. I made the soft sounds mothers make when they want to comfort a sick infant. I forced myself to keep my distance, because I knew he would be terrified of me. Yet, I ached to help him know he need not fear. The battle was over. His wings were strong. He could take the air, and dance it over, and sing.
He could fly, but he did not. Instead, he died.
I don’t think he died from the bite. I think he died because he could not release being bitten. I think his tiny heart could not bear the memory of such a horror.
I’ve carried this with me for days. I have carried it because I have been that little bird. After the great beast attacked me (for he attacks us all) I lay with my eyes wide, heart pounding, terrified.
“Such terrible things as even this happen in the world?”
Who can ever bear the answer to that? The pain. The guilt. The horror was comprehensive, for I was made to see what the world is. I was made to see what I was as well.
I was broken, and then I was gently held. I was carried to freedom. I heard soft things spoken over me. I was shown the sky, and I was given wings to take it.
And yet, I lay frozen. I chose instead all the names by which pain and failure had marked me.
I chose death though the March wind was heavy with hyacinths, and the hymn of a warming earth invited me to dance. Little bird, see what is true. The old has gone, the new has come. Rise. Take flight.