This morning a bird is trapped in our screened porch. The poor thing flitters back and forth like a caged maniac, banging into walls and windows.
My wife rushes to open the screen door, saying, “Go on, little bird! Shoo!”
My wife, the animal rescuer, dog adopter, and feral feline vigilante. She is a woman who will halt five lanes of traffic to help a single turtle cross the highway. A woman who once tried to adopt two stray cats on our honeymoon.
She is also the same woman who has been spending each morning, afternoon, and evening with her dying mother. Occasionally I find my wife lying in her mother’s sickbed, curled beside her in the half fetal position.
Nobody ever tells you that dying can be beautiful. Over the past week, we have experienced a lot of beauty. Too much beauty, in fact.
Believe me, there are times when my wife doesn’t think she can stand any more beauty. She just wants the suffering to end.
But it’s beauty nonetheless. And I wish you could be in that little bedroom with us, amidst the humming medical appliances and the infantries of orange prescription bottles. The room feels like a place where time doesn’t exist. There is almost a feeling of weightlessness. I cannot explain it.
In that dark bedroom there is no calendar. No outside world. No societal demands. No anxieties. All the things in life that everyone thinks are so important—mortgages, careers, schedules, obligations—they aren’t real in this room.
Last night we sat around and sang to my mother-in-law while the patient smiled at us through dried and cracked lips.
We sang songs by Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, Issac Watts, Fanny Crosby, Sam Cooke, and the Beach Boys. We belted out melodies until finally we asked the patient how she liked our singing.
She opened her eyes and mumbled, “You’re making me nauseous.”
We laughed until tears dripped from our chins. But we kept singing.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound…”
“Wisemen say only fools rush in, but I can’t help falling in love with you…”
“When the night has come, and the land is dark…”
And now this morning, I awake to find this bird trapped in our screened porch. Coincidence? Maybe. But I don’t believe in those.
“Go on, little bird!” says my wife.
She is trying to guide the confused creature toward the open door. And I can tell she doesn’t see the symbolism here.
“C’mon, girl, you can do it! Go on, girl!”
I am thinking about the moment I asked this woman to marry me. Only days before I popped the question, she proudly told me: “When my parents get old, I’m going to take care of them.”
It was an adult promise made by a girl. But it had power behind it. Real power. And I remember thinking what a remarkable woman this was.
When you’re young, you never think about what it means to caregive for a family member. You don’t think about old age, or illness, or someone dying in the downstairs bedroom.
Old age is a fairytale to the young. When you’re a kid you awake each morning and your days are infinite. You have thousands of tomorrows left, each one as limitless as today.
But the older you get the more you realize what a complete crock that is. Because the fact is, time moves so fast that it will snap your neck. A weekday barely lasts five minutes. Your twenties hardly last more than a few hours.
“Go on, bird! Shoo! Get outta here!” says my wife.
All my life, I’ve wondered what comes after death. And it has always scared me a little. But right now, watching this helpless bird, I’m getting the feeling that it doesn’t truly matter what comes next. All that matters is that there is a next.
Take this bird. This bird isn’t thinking about what will come after she escapes this porch. In fact, she isn’t thinking at all. All she knows is that “out there” is better than “in here.” And she wants to get there fast.
Well, eventually she gets her wish.
“Look!” says my wife, pointing. “There she goes!”
All of a sudden the bird finds the open door. It takes place so quickly that I nearly miss it. The bird whips through the opening like a brown missile and flutters upward into the blue.
My wife watches, hands on hips, gazing at the sky. She is unaware of what I’m thinking right now. And that’s a good thing because maybe I’m trying too hard to find deeper meanings in events which have no meaning.
Either way, I find meaning here. Today I am watching my wife exercise mercy on a sparrow.
I’m watching this tiny thing soar upward like a freed inmate, wings unfurled as she glides high above the treetops. Who knows where this beautiful creature is going, or when she’ll get there? It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that she’s been released.
And some glad morning, you and I will be too.