While we were sleeping one night, a storm came and turned our world upside down. We woke up to a backyard filled with leaves, branches and sticks. We also woke up to an eerily quiet house. The hum of the refrigerator and white noise of the air conditioner were unhappily absent. We had no electricity. The thermostat was already at mid seventies in the early morning, threatening to rise above hundred degree Fahrenheit as the day progressed. The calm morning belied the devastation that nature wreaked upon us the night before.
While picking up sticks and leaves from the yard, Sahana and Ryan discovered three very young baby cardinals in our yard. One of them lay still, the other two were fighting to stay alive. Both the children being avid animal lovers, turned to us in tears, “What can we do? The babies will die if we leave them here!”
We had no answers, of course. Nature can be harsh, sometimes these calamities take lives, those babies are beyond help, sorry but we have to accept their fate – these sort of reasonings were blown away by the tender hearts and streaming tears. Both cried harder, pleading to their ‘all powerful’ parents, “No please! Don’t say that! We can’t give up on them! We can’t let them die. We can bring them in, feed them and give them water!”
The birds had just hatched out of the eggs, their eyes weren’t open yet. Sean and I stood there watching the laboured breathing of the babies and listening to the tearful pleas of our human babies. I looked up to see the daddy cardinal, in all his red splendor, fluttering around from one branch to the other. The unassuming brown mom twittered in agonizing helplessness. At that moment, I could relate to the helplessness of the bird parents. They were helpless against the harshness of nature. I was equally helpless in shielding mine from the harshness of this world where death, agony, pain, suffering are very real.
Sean and I slowly headed back. Hearts were heavy, we failed the children. Despite the sass and attitude we get, both the children still turn to us to find a solution to life’s problems. Their confidence that mom and dad can figure out a way to save the baby birds, and our failure to do so, touched us both. Then Ryan came running in, tears streaming down his face, “Please, please help them mom. The ants are biting them, they are suffering. Make their suffering stop!” I simply had to try to do something, for the faith he has in my abilities to ‘stop the suffering’.
We got a flower-pot, filled it with leaves, picked up the surviving cardinals with other leaves, careful not to leave our scent on the babies and put them gently in the make shift nest. The parents were still watching. Sean balanced the ‘nest’ securely on a high branch. We stood below with fingers crossed that the parents would take over.
Ryan insisted, much to the amusement of his sister, that we should have fed the babies some ‘ketchup’! Why ketchup? Well, ketchup is the only food that he could think of that has the same consistency of the regurgitation that the birdie mom and dad feed their babies. He also told us somberly that saving baby birds was much more important in the scheme of things than going to a picnic when we urged him to get ready to go to Sean’s office picnic. He stood there for a while keeping an eye on the nest up on the tree, turned around and said he was going to offer a prayer at church for the long life of those two birds.
For Ryan, I still have all the answers. That is not the reality, it is his perception of his mother. For Sahana, I still have the answers to questions that matter – again, her perception of me. Their faith truly overwhelms me with gratitude and love and at the same time, scares the living daylights out of me. I am sure the day is approaching soon when I will NOT have all the answers. I sincerely hope that by that time, they both will have learnt answers to some of the questions and more importantly, they will have learnt to explore the right resources to search for those answers.
Their grieving at the imminent death of the birds reminded me of Gerard Manly Hopkins’ lines:
Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
Sahana and Ryan will not cry their hearts out for fallen baby birds for very long. Even if they don’t shed tears, my hope is, they will still turn around to look at the fallen, bend down to pick them up, give them a shoulder and never ever stop trying to ‘stop the suffering.’