Last night, a bird flew into our kitchen window. We were eating supper when it happened. We heard a loud crash against the glass. My wife and I walked into the backyard to find a red-bellied woodpecker, lying on the grass, convulsing.
My wife picked it up. She held it. We talked to it.
“It’s a baby,” said my wife, who was starting to cry. “I think it broke its neck.”
She wasn’t only crying about the bird. At least not entirely. She was crying because this world has given us a lot to cry about lately. Quarantines. Riots. Deaths. It’s been difficult to keep smiling.
We named the bird Beatrice. We put Beatrice into a shoebox and fed her wet cat food. We watched her sleep on a bed of pine straw.
The thing is, we’ve been finding a lot of wounded animals like this since the quarantine began. I guess we have nothing else better to do. Last month alone we nursed one wounded cat, one broken-winged butterfly, and one lame starling. The cat survived. The butterfly died. The starling needed professional medical care.
I found the starling outside my office one morning. It was a baby bird, brown-and-white speckled, flailing on the ground. My wife named him Boomer. Boomer slept in a shoebox beside our bed. We thought he would improve, but he didn’t.
Finally, when Boomer’s wing didn’t seem to be getting better, we called a wildlife rehab. We drove a few hours to get there.
That day, there were a few people ahead of us in line, cradling boxes that contained animals. There was a little girl, with bright blonde hair, wearing red tennis shoes. She held a box with a wild rabbit in it. Her mother was beside her. We were all standing on the sidewalk, wearing face masks, waiting our turn.
“This is a rabbit,” the girl told me.
I smiled. “You don’t say.”
“I found him. His name is Larry.” This kid was all business.
“Larry can’t walk or run,” she went on. “But he’s cool. I’ve had him since last week.” Her eyes focused on my shoebox. “Hey, what kind of animal do you have?”
The girl opened my box without even asking. Obviously she hadn’t heard about social distancing regulations.
“OH MAN! IT’S A BIRD, MOM! I LOVE THOSE THINGS!”
Her mother apologized for her daughter’s outburst. “I’m sorry, she just loves animals. We’re always rescuing them. She and her grandmother are always rescuing tons of cats and squirrels, even a baby alligator.”
The girl held her arms out like she was measuring a big fish. “Me and my grandma found an alligator that was THIS big. I wanted to keep it, but grandma said alligators eat lap dogs.”
The sun was getting hot while we waited for the nurse to receive our animals. I could see the little girl starting to get emotional when she realized that her time with Larry was coming to an end. Her mood was getting more somber.
Her mother kept reminding her: “Sweetie, don’t be sad, remember what your grandma always says.”
But the girl wasn’t thinking of Grandma. She ignored her mother and stroked Larry’s head. “Rabbits are my favorite animal,” she said to me. “What’s your favorite animal?”
“Dogs are my favorite animal.”
The girl’s attention drifted back to Larry. She lifted Larry from his box and held him, wetting his fur with her kisses. She was talking to Larry like he could understand her. To say this child loved her rabbit would be an understatement. This little girl would have stepped in front of a train for Larry.
Finally, the nurse came to take the animal. But the girl was having a hard time letting go. She tried to be brave, but it was not working. She began to sob. Her mother had to pry the animal loose from her arms.
“They’re gonna take care of you, Larry,” the girl said. “They’re gonna make you all better. I love you.”
The woman in scrubs took Larry away, they disappeared through the back doors. And we could all feel the girl’s heart shatter into a million pieces. The tears of a child are precious.
“Remember what your grandma says,” said her mother again, wiping the girl’s face.
My curiosity got the best of me. I just had to know. So I asked her mother what Grandma always says.
Her mother said. “Grandma says ‘Love is the best medicine, and that’s the best thing we can give.’”
Before they left, the child wiped her her snotty nose with her palms. “I hope your bird feels better,” the girl said.
I watched them pile into their minivan before driving away. And I sure hope that child found another wounded animal to love.
Anyway, today we took the woodpecker to a wildlife hospital across the county line. It was the same scenario as before, more or less. The same hot weather. Same surgical masks. Same shoebox containing a bird.
My wife kept lifting the shoebox lid and whispering to the bird until we turned it over to the nurses. When the lady came to take the animal away, my wife whispered to the bird, “Goodbye, Beatrice. We love you.”
We both waved farewell on our way out the door. I felt sort of silly waving goodbye to a woodpecker, but I’m getting used feeling silly.
My wife was smiling, but her eyes were pink. She leaned her head into my shoulder.
“Don’t be sad,” I told her. “Remember what Grandma always says.”
And in these troubled times, I hope I never forget.