Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2012-10:20 am
I sat on the crowded bus. I felt a sense of relief to be able to sit down. It was peaceful being part of the crowd with the jumble of loud, discordant sounds in the background .
I said nothing to anyone , said nothing to myself , rejoiced in nothing.
It had been a bad day at work, and it ended with my car being towed. I walked to the tow lot for exercise, a few miles away, but got lost. My phone died. I would be late to pick up my son after school. I couldn't call him. It started to rain. I had left my purse in the (towed) car so I had no credit cards or cash for a cab. I found some change in my pocket and got on a bus to go the rest of the way.
A group of people got off the bus when I did . We walked down the sidewalk . There were birds flying around under the bridge. They flew down the middle of the walkway a few feet in front of us, matching our speed at eye level airborne, stationary, tethered like helium balloons. They seemed almost exhilarated. Exhilaration, I thought, from the Latin "ex", meaning out of or from and therefore thoroughly, and "hilarer", meaning to make cheerful.
A shape in the shallows caught my eye: a bird on the sidewalk, hovering over another dead bird. It must be a monogamous bird.
"Till Death Do Us Part". I admired birds with the temerity to bond for life and protect the mate , even when it was dead. My mind wandered , recalling my unremarkably low numerical count in my of personal history of serial monogamy.
I was not well-equipped for the official business of avian crime-scene investigation, but a few others stopped to see what was going on.
It was not a bird hovering over another: It was the bizarre sight of one bird's feet stuck in the flesh of the dead bird's body. As I came closer to see, it thrashed in panic and tossed itself all in a tangle into the gutter , still attached to the other bird. They must have been struck by a bus, and one was killed , and the other spared, but slammed and squeezed into the one that died.
The predicament would leave it immobile and starving to death. We eventually held the wings down and pried the live bird's feet out from the dead one's flesh. It flew away, back to the group now perched on the steel beam above us.
It occurred to me , while caught up in this avian good deed, that I hadn't once thought about the work struggles that had weighed on me for six relentless months, or my bad day . Suddenly the towed car didn't seem to bother me. It was a good day after all.
The dead bird lay still in the gutter.
Mortality as a subject for contemplation or art or literature is certainly not new. In fact, it is probably one of the earliest and most common themes explored by writers and artists. There;s something incredibly poignant about a dead bird. Birds in life seem to be perpetually moving. Their eyes are darting around in search of dangers or food, feathers constantly being ruffled, feet shuffling on perches, wings flapping in the air. When they are asleep, their chests visibly rise and fall with the rhythm of respiration.
As a result, to see a bird so still, and so quiet, is sad. And yet: there is also a sense of peace about this picture, the curvature of the little beak suggesting, perhaps, the hint of a smile. For this bird, at least, the struggles of survival are over.
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