God and the Bird


There is one person who I know will understand the significance of what happened to me today.  One person I can tell who will know the part of me in it and I told her the story, well, only the beginning as it turns out, because it continued even as I sat down to write on a temperatureless fall afternoon, on a third story balcony with a planter of scarlet begonias hanging off the railing in front of me.  It is a balcony only large enough for a small white plastic table with two plastic green chairs and lined with bamboo reeds to create an illusion of privacy from the street below.  Birds are chirping.  I’d guess by the sound of it, five different varieties, but what do I know about birds.  Maybe it is five different moods of one kind of bird.  Fortunately for them, we have old fashioned telephone lines with light posts attached and lots of wire for them to rest upon, usually facing west, facing the setting sun, or the coming of a storm.  They like to face these things.  Being on the third floor and level with the local treetops makes my straw-lined flower baskets prime real estate for nest-building materials in the spring.  They usually come in pairs, one standing guard, the other stuffing her mouth with as much of the fine, thready straw as possible, then off they go to a neighbor’s gutter or a nook in a local tree.  Once I startled them by turning on the radio on the other side of the window and the pair flew into the branches of the closest tree and carried on some kind of argument for a good five minutes before trying again.  About every other year so much of the basket has been removed that the entire contents of potting soil falls through the lattice-metal basket onto the sidewalk below.  So far, no one has been hurt; still, I think wood-box planters might be a better solution. But then, I worry about the nests.

My condo is a loft.  Two-stories of windows.  That was my priority when I was house-hunting after my children moved on to their independent lives. I’m not sure what all those windows look like to a bird in flight, but I always assumed that they were aware of us humans—of our solid rectangular masses—not blue like the sky. 

Oh My God… it just happened again, a loud THUMP and something fell into my begonias.  I searched in the plants, on the sidewalk below, but did not find anything, just like yesterday when I was painting on my easel next to the window.  No sign of a fallen bird except a few downy feathers stuck to the windowpane.  Not like earlier this morning when, after the THUMP, I saw him, lying on my little balcony, on his side, panting, not trying to move, even when I opened the sliding door to check on him.  He did not panic.  He just lay there, stunned.  I hoped only stunned.  I agonized about all the options of what to do.  I witnessed this. I am a part of this life-crisis. I had to do something even if it meant only to sit next to him and watch him die. 

I closed the shades. Maybe that would prevent a bird from misunderstanding a windowpane. I went back outside. I rested my fingers on his back, on his little amber head, stroked his soft feathers. He chirped meekly, tried to flap his wings, but left them open on the wood planks. I picked him up. He fit in the palm of my hand. He let me stroke his back. He was limp and couldn’t lift his head. I made a bed of an old tie-dyed t-shirt and covered him gently, leaving his head out and the fabric loose in case he might be able to fly away. He bled from his beak. Drops of bright red blood. I set a soaked paper towel next to his beak.  Maybe he would draw enough strength to suck up some water later.  I had a meeting to go to.  I was pretty sure he was dying.  His eyes were closed.  He wasn’t chirping any longer nestled in the tie-dye t-shirt.  It was a sheltered, sunny spot.  I cried for him.

But I forgot.  My meeting, working out at the gym, back home making lunch and then I saw him, still nestled in the shirt, but sitting up on his belly and looking around.  Around and around, left to right…Alert!  I thought a miracle happened on that sun-drenched little corner of the planet.  He wasn’t bleeding from the beak.  I was captivated by his recovery, his every movement reminding me of my joy in watching each minute stage of my first child’s exploration of the world, his look into my eyes, his toothless smile, his reach out to touch my fingers, my face.  The bird was healing!  What ecstasy, what rapture, what elation!  I brought out a small tub of water and placed it next to his head.  He stretched out his neck, but didn’t try to escape.  He just looked and me, motionless.  I went back inside and he went back to his surveillance circles and periodic catnaps.  I started planning—how long might I wait before putting out some kind of seed.  I remembered someone saying that birds like peanut-butter balls lined with seeds.  It was decided.  After my lunch I would buy some seed and make a peanut-butter ball. 

My kitchen counters do not face the balcony.  Every minute or so, I turn around to check on the bird.  I am beginning to feel that something will happen and I don’t want to miss it.  He is snug in his little colorful t-shirt nest, but something is different.  Then I hear a light tap on the windowpane and when I turn around I see him flying over the treetop against a perfect blue sky.  His temporary nest was empty but for the spots of watered-down blood and a full tub of water.  I was moved the way one would be if God had visited you.  But I don’t understand why he threw another bird at my window and wouldn’t let me find it.  Was he not hurt?  Was it the same bird, only now, is he dead?  Are all our efforts wasted?  Is there no purpose to being here?  Only one person I know understands how this joy and this sorrow occupy the same small space, not cancelling each other out, not enhancing one nor the other, but just a bird fallen in midflight to elsewhere.
Pacia Sallomi, 2012
Milwaukee, WI