I'm afraid. Afraid when I consider what is happening in the world, and my place in it. I get overwhelmed when I read about collapsitarians and the peak oil crisis in light of the gushing gallons of oil in the Gulf Coast. I read about political unrest, babies dying from treatable diseases, and fear and ignorance. And I'm afraid that God's eye is not on the sparrow.
One year, we discovered a dead baby bird on the floor of the fireplace at my parents' house. A family of chimney swifts, small, sparrow-like birds had made a nest in their chimney. My folks forgot to seal it before the next season, and they came once again. We heard more fluttering in the firebox. The cats were elated to have prey trapped so close, frustrated that we wouldn't open the glass fireplace doors to let the birds out to play.
Peering inside, we saw two little birds clinging to the metal netting of the screen. I worried they couldn't fly, but when my dad looked inside later, they were gone. The chirping and thundering of wings grew louder and louder until it was an alarm clock at feeding time, early in the morning. Then one day, silence. The birds had flown the chimney. But the cats were still on patrol outside the fireplace, poised to pounce. Looking inside, I saw one bird, quiet on the floor, and one fluttering next to it. Dad put on gloves and picked them both up -- tiny, the two barely filled one of his palms. I was sure the one was still alive, and we took it outside, placing its head near a shallow saucer with water, thinking it was dehydrated and hungry. I crushed almonds into easy to eat almond-dust. I know nothing about birds. It lay propped on the little dish we used for soy sauce, breathing tiny shallow bird breaths.
Wearing vinyl gloves to protect it from my human-ness should its parents return for their abandoned baby, I took a small garden claw and dug for worms. Tears welled up as I prayed to find a worm in one breath and demanded that God honor the promise to keep an eye on the sparrow. As far as I could tell, only my eyes were on this one. I found one small worm, and dangled it near the bird's beak, alternating that with drops of water. I rearranged her, trying to aim her beak for the shallow pool of water. Every time I turned her on her stomach, she would struggle and flip on her side, then on her back. Her beak opened, and occasionally when I dropped water on it she shook her head, making her whole tiny body shake like a dog coming out from a swim. Watching her tiny claw feet grasp, I was hopeful. She made two brief chirps, and I thought if her wings were broken from the fall, she could be my new pet, kept safe in a roomy cage from the kitties.
She took one last gaspy breath, and when I moved the almond dust towards her, I noticed she was no longer fighting. I couldn't admit my nursing hadn't worked. It was getting cold; I warmed a fluffy old towel in the drier and wrapped her in it. I had a glimpse into Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, where she could not throw away her husband's shoes the year after he died. If she did, what would he wear when he returned? I couldn't think that I had watched a helpless creature die and been impotent to save her. Not yet willing to admit the physics of the world, I wrapped her lightly in the towel and placed her in a shoe box in the shed. When my dog had died earlier that year, I'd learned that I am physically and emotionally unable to bury a pet. I felt like I was suffocating with the finality of throwing dirt on top of his body. If it weren't for my mother burying the dog, and her promise to bury the bird that night, I might end up the crazy lady with all the dead pets boxed in the shed.
I am the crazy lady who hopes that death is not the end. Perhaps that is where faith kicks in for me, not that God will save every creature, but that there is something beyond this, for the little soul of this bird and my clumsy cocker spaniel. And that God's eye on the sparrow is us, looking out for each other. That we can make positive changes to live in community, growing local food, relying less on oil. That we can support and care for those around the world for whom our way of life and war have left in poverty, helping to find what it means to live sustainably. That we do all we can to feed, water and wrap each other in warm towels (shoe boxes optional).
(Photo: "An eye on the community," Carf photostream, Flickr)