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Lessons from a dead bird

The dead bird is flat as a pancake on the sidewalk. It looks small — just a baby, then — perhaps an adventurer tumbled inadvertently from the nest, or the shy quiet one forcibly defenestrated by an aggressive older brother.

What surprises me is the remarkable flatness of dead bird’s body. The bird has been compressed entirely into two dimensions and I imagine that if I peeled it up from the sidewalk it would feel in my hand not unlike a sheet of paper.

I don’t pick up the bird.

I cannot invent a good explanation for how the bird became so flat. I imagine the height a baby bird would need to fall from to become so perfectly flattened by the resulting splat — I cannot believe the trees overhead are tall enough — not even factoring in the possibility of softness in the growing bones of a baby bird.

Perhaps the bird has been run over. But how it would have found it’s way from the street to where it lies fused with the sidewalk, I cannot imagine.

The bird’s shape regards me mournfully, its feet curled up into its chest in a mockery of the way I myself have curled up on lonely nights — flattened by exhaustion and the weight of a world I struggle to endure.

Perhaps this baby bird is a metaphor. Squashed flat not by any specific force, but merely by the weight of life itself — a metaphor for my own worn and weary heart.

I pass the dead bird on many subsequent evenings, watch as it seems to melt slowly into the crannies of the cobbled sidewalk. I am the only person who seems to notice the bird, a tiny tragedy of blue feathers and grasping feet pressed helplessly into the paving stones below.

The bird does not decompose in the gross way that bodies usually do — becoming a nest of maggots and liquefying entrails. Due perhaps to its flatness, the bird has desiccated on the sidewalk and so it decomposes not unlike a sheet of paper, becoming dirtied and besmirched by the passing feet of passers by. It’s feathers melt away until it is little more than a skeleton pressed flat into the sidewalk.

And then one day it is gone.

One day it’s gone and when I walk by on my way home from work, I find I miss its steady presence — I miss the daily reminder to let life ache a little in the hollow cavern of my chest, to let the world feel sharp and painful for a bittersweet moment.

I miss the daily reminder to feel again, after so many years of choking numbness. In this small, helpless bird I have, at last, found a reason to ache in a way I could never justify aching for myself — for the ruin that seems to have crept into my own life as I plodded on, so utterly unaware.

I miss the daily reminder to mourn for the baby bird that wasn’t, for the living birds that invested so much to incubate a fragile egg and — more than that — I miss the reminder to mourn for the small tragedies that litter everyday life like the litter that lingers along sidewalks, tucked away in shrubs and nestled among tree roots on my walk to work each morning, or the litter strewn along the freeway that I pass by each day on the bus. I miss the reminder to mourn for the flowers that have melted away too soon, under the weight of a persistent downpour.

These days I am eager to mourn, because it is only from sorrow that we begin to imagine a better way, it is only by travelling through sorrow that we remember joy. And so, even as I mourn, I am beginning to dream. I dream dreams of sidewalks free of garbage and empty of dead baby birds.

And my only regret is the bird’s body vanished to dust before I could scrape it up from the sidewalk and give it burial befitting the gratitude I feel for having experienced its gentle reminder. A reminder served by fragile feet curled up helplessly against flattened bird belly and the triangulation of a beak pointed straight toward the heart.


Now it’s your turn! What has touched your heart lately? Let me know in the comments.


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