There’s no way to know this, of course. But it was the way she moved, the sounds she made.
Slowly, deliberately. A single step across the ground. Head side-to-side. Not eating, not searching for food.
But looking for something that was a lost. A child.
Another step. And then a chirp.
Baby was gone. Long gone. Twenty miles away, inside a building. Human hands tending to its health.
Do birds feel loss? Do the doves in my back yard – birds I’ve never given any thought to, really, before yesterday afternoon – feel the pain of absence?
It’s unscientific. A hunch based on observation.
But I’m pretty sure they do.
* * *
What an odd series of days.
It’s sort of a mess out there in case you haven’t noticed.
A missile shooting a passenger plane out of the sky. A war of words involving tens of nations. Escalating conflicts at the crossroads of religion.
And in my close circle of friends, the death of a 36-year-old man. A father to be. A loss so completely unfair, it defies processing.
My weekend started there, at the memorial. It incurred a defining turnout – the sign of an individual and a family loved intensely by scores of people. It was as I wished it would be.
I don’t think it appropriate to talk much about this. It feels out of my realm to delve too much into this subject.
I love his family. I love his friends. But I’m not qualified to talk about what his life – or death – means.
Unless it is to say that it underscores something I explore routinely in this space: the finality, the unpredictability, the you-ain’t-in-control-of-it-bitch of it all.
We ride on borrowed time. The where and when of your end will probably come when you least expect it.
And the things you worried about – the damn things you worry about – man, for the most part: they’re stupid.
* * *
Let’s start with your body.
Because this has come up a lot lately. Everybody is worrying about their goddamn body.
How much time do you spend worrying about that shit?
I’m too fat. I don’t like my (insert body part). So someday soon, you’re going to stop eating this, stop doing that, change this.
Let me ask you this: Are you exercising? Do you generally feel okay? Are you avoiding chain smoking a pack of cigs? Are you drinking responsibly – not what some dipshit magazine or television doctor says is responsibly – but what you say is responsibly? Are you getting up for work? Eating veggies? Taking care of your family, your life, what needs to be taken care of?
Yes? Then repeat after me, slowly.
I. AM. OKAY.
No one – not your kids, not your mom, not your dad, not your friends, will ever eulogize you by saying, “Well he/she was worthless because, damn, did you see those love handles?”
In fact, I’d bet the energy you’ve wasted on obsessing over that is, if not all-consuming, then at least a serious distraction. It is for me.
I exercise. I grill zucchini. I’ve got an electronic device in my pocket that tells me how many steps I take. I log everything I eat.
And, it never fails, when I tell somebody I’ve done not one, but two Ironman triathlons, that I do Crossfit three times a week, that I do 100 burpees a day, their eyes do a quick scan. I see them look at my puffy, computer-desk, overweight-belly, and wonder: Huh?
But in the last year, I’ve become okay with that. I smile and assure them I do exercise a lot.
If they push further, I say, “Well, I’d be a hell of lot bigger if I didn’t.”
But then I move on. It’s not important. It’s not why we’re here.
Yes, should some health-nut doctor or friend read this, they’d probably froth with fury at my laissez-faire logic, but I’m looking at the bigger picture.
It’s easy when your whole job is to focus on one aspect of life: if you reject sugar, if you eat under X calories a day, if you work out Y hours weekly, the odds of your life extending to age Z, with minimal risk of disease so-and-so, is greatly increase/decreased.
But that ain’t the whole picture, is it? Life is kids and jobs and friends and how you feel – how you really feel – about how you lived each day.
And if you’re going to make the most of it, you have to step back from all the things you’ve read, all the things people tell you and ask: What is it that I want? What is that make me happy?
When you stop the comparisons, and you start focusing on that, you’re on your way to living your life.
* * *
Let me say this, because I love honesty, the whiskey is gonna’ hurt tomorrow. I’ve been sitting here, thinking my way through this like some kind of Hemingway-lite.
I ain’t gonna’ race bulls tomorrow, but I am going to present my latest work accomplishment to a senior VP tomorrow – it’s on my calendar at 2 p.m. – and at some point, I’m going to wish that I had just gone to bed, rather than poured drinks and, in the process, poured the shit that fills my brain onto a screen and a keyboard.
Only I can’t.
Because that’s not me. And now, I embrace that.
And if guilty wants to move in at 5:30 a.m. tomorrow morning, I’ll tell it to take a seat. Get lost. Go home. Leave me alone.
* * *
Back to this week. And that momma’ bird.
It’s all my fault.
The tree was so goddamn big. My beloved Saudi Arabian Mulberry (I could write poems to that beautiful tree – all deciduous in a world of dry, deathly heat) had gotten too big.
So I paid people to come and return it to health.
They mutilated it because they had to, so it wouldn’t fall down in the high-speed monsoon winds of the desert summer. So the shallow roots of a desert tree wouldn’t give way.
And that’s why the baby bird was there, alone in the grass. Waiting to die.
I came across it when I was writing the check to my friend – a great guy who owns the landscaping business I hired to take care of my fragile trees.
I pointed it out to him.
“That happens,” he said.
I went back inside. He went on his way to his next job.
“Heidi,” I told my wife. “There’s a baby bird out there in the grass.”
She sighed that sigh. It was the same one I was feeling: What are we going to do?
We researched online. We learned. We put in a shoe box with towels. We fed it water from a spoon.
It cried(?) Chirped. It wanted to live.
I wanted it to live, too.
* * *
Last winter, we had a really nasty storm. Winter brings funny storms to the desert – the kind you know in the East and Midwest. When you can see them on a map, and they move all logical west to east.
One blew a newborn bird out of the nest last December and my kids were there to witness the aftermath.
They saw a baby bird on the ground. And it was hosed.
By the time we found it, a cat had gotten to it.
It was thrashed, all but dead. Torn to pieces. Broken wings. Clinging to life. Shallow breath.
My daughter cried for it.
I told them to go inside and ended the inevitable.
I hadn’t recovered from that.
So when I found this bird, I couldn’t let history repeat itself.
I picked it up, put it in a box, and found it a shelter. Drove 20 miles, made a donation and assuaged my guilt.
And for what?
There was a part of me that obsessed over the irony – that I would take such steps to save a life, while eating a steak that very same evening.
That a close friend’s brother had died, and later that night, I was socializing – happily – over salmon and decadent beer.
That the next night, I was at it again. With a different set of friends and delicious food and drink.
Here we were, in the chaos of all this horrible shit: laughing. Enjoying life.
I struggle. Because I want to make this all so beautifully poignant.
But sometimes there is only truth and cliché.
There is a finality to it all.
Live each day.
Respect the gift.
The wind blows.
You fall from the tree.
Aw, shit, you didn’t expect that, did you?
Too late …