Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Death of a Red Sparrow.

Sometimes I like to say that I’m experiencing seasons of things. Usually when I’ve had a rough day, week, or month, I’ll say I’m experiencing a season of death. But I think I’m wrong each time I say that, because death is all around us all the time. If at this point you think that talking about death is inevitably morbid and gross and a sign of depression, then you can either stop reading now, or perhaps be mildly surprised by the end of this post.

Some Observations:
- A few years ago my dog Benny died. We buried him at my Uncle’s farm, and everyone in my family cried.
- My great uncle Jerry died a few weeks ago.
- I’m often finding myself in need of dying to myself.
- Two of my favourite films, Wings of Desire and The Seventh Seal, juggle death in unique ways.
- People die on LOST every season.
- Death is a radical revelation that opens up the future.
- Every time I go on the internet when I’m inspired my creativity dies. The same goes for my productivity.
- This summer I’m taking a road trip to see someone’s grave.
- Aging seems to be the death of childhood. Then adolescence. Then adulthood.
- Death is not bad.

Yesterday I visited my sister’s family in Kitchener. After I parked my car on the street I walked up to the house and passed a red sparrow sitting on the sidewalk. I almost walked over it and it didn’t move. I stopped and looked down more intently upon the sparrow, and noticed that the bird was fat (almost pregnant-like) and preoccupied with rapidly opening its mouth. Its breast was heaving as it seemed to gasp for air, and I could tell that something was out of the ordinary. The sparrow could have been getting ready to lay an egg for all I knew. I felt sadness towards the pain the bird seemed to be in, but felt helpless and went inside after a couple of moments.

Minutes later my curious nieces were outside, wrapped in whatever layers were easily found near the front door, and out getting a closer look at the bird. My nephew stood inside as if more content to ponder the suffering of the bird from a distance than to disturb the bird. He genuinely felt for the bird, while the girls got closer and closer, amazed at this up close encounter with sparrow. My sister, brother-in-law, and I all watched as the girls got closer and closer. My sister was afraid the bird would peck the girls if they got any nearer. My brother-in-law laughed at her. I made a sarcastic comment about Hitchcock films.

As one of the girls came into the house to give her updated report on the bird, their dog took advantage of the open front door and bolted. He ran straight for the bird. My sister screamed and turned away. I, along with most everyone else, froze in anticipation of what we didn’t want to see but couldn’t look away from. The dog came within inches of the bird, and leaped over at the final second – apparently more focused on running away from the house than on the bird that happened upon his path. The heaving sparrow was spared the jaws of boisterous pup, but it did not matter; the bird was seemingly unaware of how close it was to instant death and remained static, save its rising falling breast.

In a moment my brother-in-law had run out and yelled at the dog to return. He did. And nearly took out the bird again on his return route. The girls continued watching the bird, observing that one side of the bird was fatter than the other side. My nephew seemed irritated the entire time, and wanted the girls to leave the sparrow alone. After a few more minutes the girls came in.

A few minutes later everyone was relieved when we looked out the window and saw that the bird had walked up the driveway and towards the grass. It seemed like it would be okay, and everyone went back to their “Family Day” activities. My sister and I chatted briefly about our great uncle Jerry’s funeral visitation. I almost punched a relative that night. I had heard him say he wished my grandma, who is still alive, would die quickly so that he could save gas money and not have to drive back from the big city. I am not a violent man, but was tempted in that moment.

As I left the house a few minutes later, I noticed the bird had died on the driveway. My guess is that it ate something sharp, which caused a pooling of blood on one side of its body, and was eventually overcome by the injury. I felt sadness when I first saw the bird, and when I last saw it. I sensed the development of my nephew as he is growing into an age of contemplation and empathy, and smiled at the carefree and blunt mindset of my youngest niece who wanted to know if it was time to take care of the bird with the dog’s pooper-scooper.

In this moment I am reflecting on the death that has been so apparent in many realms of my life in recent months, and the pain that has surrounded it. There is sadness in often all-too-real ways. It’s curious how much seeing that beautiful red sparrow today has moved me, and I’m not sure why. Despite its struggle, it truly was beautiful.

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