Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Philosophical Musings on Bird Adoption

I'm a mom. After a burst of storm this afternoon, the sun came out again to reveal a bundle of twigs that the wind deposited on the backyard lawn. My mother investigated to find a robin nest and three chicks scattered in the grass. One poor bird was dead, probably from the fall. But the other two were quite alive. Mom and I gently placed them back in the nest without touching them in the hopes that the mother would return. She did for a moment, but then left for good. We had only one choice: to embrace our inner robin redbreast and find worms for these energetic, half-bald babies.

So over the last five hours, I've actually grown rather attached to the two chicks. At first we had them in a cardboard box on the back deck. Mom found the first worms and fed them to the scrawny little things, but then Mom had to leave. That's when I learned lesson #1 from the birds: there's nothing like having someone depend on you to motivate you past your fears.

Now, you have to understand something--I'm not afraid of much of anything. I throw caution to the wind (far too frequently). I pick up bugs, I squash spiders, I eat almost anything generally considered edible (no, not cockroaches, thanks) and not too much freaks me out. Snakes, mice, frogs, etc. are not much to call home about. Actually, I'm pretty fond of the little critters. But WORMS. No. I don't do little squishable things that squirm. Crawl, slither, squeak, and hop don't bother me. Squirm does. I can deal with worms on a hook, but I'd rather not. Nothing grosses me out like worms and larvae. Eww. Ew! Ew! Ew! No. Yuck.

But do you know what I did when my little chicks (later named Willy and Nilly) stretched their tiny, delicate necks and opened their oversized beaks as soon as they saw me?? I dug into the garden and collected a handful of red, squirming, repulsive earthworms. Then I handfed my babies. Because they needed me.

As the adoptive mommy, I started to analyze my new role in their lives. (Okay, we all know I think too much. Don't do the eyes-closed, slap-the-palm-on-the-forehead thing to me. Just get over it.) If I'm the new mommy, do they miss their old mommy? Do they feel abandoned? Betrayed? And what about the grown-up robin who suddenly finds a lot of free time on her...talons(?)? Does she feel guilt? I came to the conclusion--oh, come on! As if I actually had to think this through. Hell no! Birds don't feel. That's a human thing. With our rationality, we are also cursed with the consequences of our mistakes and cowardice. (I know these things. I'm a too-often mistake-making coward myself.) Your mistakes make me feel betrayed. Those feelings of betrayal and abandonment make me not trust you. And maybe you feel guilty because of your actions. Those are all uniquely human feelings. Obviously birds feel some things...hunger, the need to reproduce, sleepiness, etc. But there's not much beyond that for the animal kingdom. Pain is reserved for the humans.

Then as I was watching my birds flop around and climb all over each other in their sleep and every so often let out a "Squeak! Chirp!" and desperately strain their necks to reach out for a bit of worm or fruit from me, I had a new appreciation for the biblical imagery about birds in the Psalms and elsewhere. For example, Psalm 57 says, "in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge..." Caroline was teasing me that I should consider sitting on the chicks while they sleep. I said that I'd thought of that already...yeah, not really. But I did try putting my fist gently on top of them, to see if they reacted to the pressure and warmth of my hand. I guess there's nothing as comforting as the warmth and weight of someone bigger and stronger and softer who cares enough to embrace you. (Mmm. Embrace. One of my favorite words.)

I also considered one of my favorite verses of all time. In Matthew 23, just after the Triumphal Entry, Jesus looked over the city of Jerusalem. He cried, he wept. He looked at that old city of His fathers, the place of promise where every Jew under heaven held his hopes. He said, "Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem. You who stoned the prophets and kill the ones I sent to you. How I've longed to gather you as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings! But you were not willing." This verse has always meant a lot to me. The tenderness and true love for Israel is so moving. This is unrequited love. We're not talking about soft, fluffy, yellow farm chicks here. They're scrawny and don't quite have enough feathers to cover their head, much less fly off on their own. The people of Israel, like Willy and Nilly, are demanding and restless yet more dependent and vulnerable than they realize. They know of their hunger and their discomfort, but they know nothing of gratitude and indebtedness and surrender. They don't even deserve His love and they hardly even acknowledge it. Hm.

Newest favorite songs of the summer: "Such Great Heights" - Iron and Wine; "Fair" - Remy Zero; "On Your Front Porch" - The Format; "Blackout" - Muse; "My Love Goes Free" - Jon Foreman

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