We watched a bird, likely a house finch, take its last breath in Matthew’s hands the other day. She and her mate had been attacked by blue jays. The wing on the left is what was left of the male. One of the blue jays had her by the neck and dropped her right where Matthew was standing.
Breathing shallowly and, obviously in suffering, the kids and Matthew took turns stroking her feathers, gently whispering to her words of love. I tried to will her to live. I envisioned us taking her to a wildlife sanctuary where we had brought another bird Matthew had found. But, just as I was going to suggest we take her there, her eyes closed, her chest rose and fell for the last time, and she quietly slipped away and died.
In the Philippines, right outside Church where I grew up, stood countless elderly women, among them my grandmother’s sister, carrying vigil candles she had made days before, to sell to churchgoers. Often times, her buyers would mourners attending a funeral. If they paid her a little bit more, she would then go inside the church, stand before a statue of Jesus on the cross or the Virgin Mary and she would then sing prayers and wail and cry on the mourners for their deceased loved one. I remember always watching this scene mesmerized, transfixed by the genuine, heartfelt tears flowing down these women’s faces, pleading to God for the salvation of the souls they prayed for.
Those scenes have always stayed with me, even now, 30 years later. Yet, I watched this little bird die, and pondered deeply about how quiet, how humble this little thing’s death was. Human or otherwise, there was a gift to be unraveled in the stillness of that transition and we were the receiver of it.
Ancient Romans practiced a form of divination known as augury, studying the activities of birds to look for omens and signs of what will happen in the future. Seeing a bird die, contrary to what it may seem to portend, is believed to be a sign of new beginnings and an ending of the old ways of doing things. We have seen this omen before, when we lived at our previous house and it marked important milestones for us as a family.
I can’t help but feel the insistence of this quiet, humble evolution. Human ego desperately wants to cling to the comfortable and familiar, but the unknown inevitably finds a way to envelope you in its embrace. The gift it brings, if you choose to honor it (because you always have a choice), is your unfoldment. The death of the unnecessary in your life in order to make room for you, your will, and the gift, you in turn, have to offer to the world.
The kids wanted to sit with the bird for awhile and so we brought it into the house and placed it in a box on the stairs. When dusk settled, Matthew respectfully took the bird outside and buried it in our yard. Afterwards, he came back in, looked at all of us, and said, “Alright, you heard the Universe. Let’s grow.”