A short life

It’s past midnight. I’m on the second walk of the night with my dog, Jules, who needs to empty her bladder yet again – she’s been drinking a lot of water to cool herself – it’s been unseasonably warm and very humid lately – that, and the fact that she suffers from incontinence. Yes, we have a good life. I have to drag, coax and charm her into walking for more than a block as she’s quite content to return home with an unemptied bladder and then look at me in distress after a half hour, or worse, wake me up in the middle of the night to take her out. So we walk several blocks before turning around.

Raccoons screech from across the street, inside Central Park – Jules stops and fixates on the racket. This is normal on a late night walk. By now, I’ve gotten used to stopping to indulge her curiosity – much like the way she freezes in place when stalking squirrels she’ll never catch.

We turn the corner to my street and Jules stops briefly to sniff a tiny branch on the sidewalk. I steer her away from it as it looks like dog shit. When I take a look at it though, it’s a small bird, a chick, dying. I’ve seen smaller birds before on the street, very tiny infants, newborns not more than an inch long. This one is bigger, about three inches from head to tail. It has a big, mostly bald head and blackish feathers, a baby blackbird, maybe – I can’t tell. I guess it probably fell out of its nest – it’s clearly not fully grown and I just don’t know why it would fall out of its nest after midnight. Shouldn’t it have been asleep in its nest then? One of its legs stretches out. For a half second, I want to save it, but intuitively, I know it’s dying. I don’t want to leave it there in case someone steps on it or a passing dog plays with it. I think of breaking the bird’s neck to put it out of its suffering. Thoughts of interfering with the cycle of life and death run through my mind, alongside my not wanting the bird  to suffer. Jules politely stays put when I tie the end of her leash to the fence of the building next door.

I bend down and lightly stroke the bird’s head. I gently caress its wing. There’s also very light trepidation that it might turn around and peck my finger. That does not happen.

A neighbor passes by with his dog, inquiring what’s going on. I tell him I’m thinking of breaking the bird’s neck to put it out of its suffering. He agrees, and adds, “Or you can try and save it.” I say, yes, I could take it home but I don’t think it will make it through the night and the Wild Bird Fund is not open now. I’ve taken injured birds before to the Wild Bird Fund, not very far from where I live in Manhattan. They do a good job of rehabilitating injured birds when it’s possible to do so. I’m glad my neighbor suggested saving the bird, because just a few seconds earlier I’d seen a wing twitch. My neighbor also suggested giving the bird drops of water through a dropper.

I pick the bird up in a small, open plastic bag and carry it home, with Jules by my side. Its eyes are shut and as I hold it in my hand, it appears that it has died, that the twitching of one wing might have been the last sigh before it died. Its legs are not moving. I get home, place it on a plate. It’s not moving; its eyes are still shut. I stroke its chest, its wing. I’m very sad at this point – encountering death firsthand usually makes me sad as I am faced with the fragility of life. I have incessantly questioned the meaning of life since I was a teen. The question is near at hand at this moment but it’s of no consequence right now – all I can see and feel is this bird that was here, and now it’s gone, dead on this plate in my house.

Jules is silently observing all of this. She’s a good reader of energy. As I put the dead bird in a plastic bag and get ready to drop it down the garbage chute, I wonder what the difference was between the bird dying on the sidewalk and letting its body lay there versus its dead body in the plastic bag and down my garbage chute. I don’t see a difference from the bird’s perspective. Some Buddhists and certain other religious practitioners will tell me that I did a good deed, that it was my intention that mattered. I think once the bird died, my intention and my actions were of no consequence to the bird anymore. It seems to me right now, intentions are only relevant in the context of a spiritual mind fuck. I’m not here to collect bonus karmic points.

I did not know that the bird had already died when I picked it up, trying to save it. I don’t know why I did it though. Whether I was trying to save it even though I knew it was going to die very soon, or whether I wanted to give it a peaceful, dignified death. Or maybe I just wanted to be kind to another. All of no consequence to a dying bird. Or to a dead bird. Or maybe not.

© 2015 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

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