Still Fragile: There is Only Love

This has been an extremely rough month for sensitive souls like me. At times, I’ve felt overwhelmed and helpless in the face of so much suffering: Terrified children separated from their immigrant parents at our southern border. The shocking suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. Tragic stories about victims of the opioid crisis. And another baby bird. It’s too much.

On Thursday afternoon, I was taking out the trash when I found it. A tiny, fuzzy, tailless nestling was in the dirt on the side of my house, crying for its mother and unable to stand up on its own. Although it was nearly 6 p.m., the temperature was a still blistering 95 degrees, the evening sun and humidity merciless. The bird was in distress. I couldn’t leave the little thing alone and helpless. My neighbor’s cat was out there somewhere.

I have no idea how the poor creature got there. The closest tree is about 20 feet away. Ret and I love feeding the birds, so there are always lots of feathered friends around my house, but to be honest, I don’t know where their nests are. There’s a cardinal family in the pine tree across the street, but this bird didn’t look like a cardinal. Scouting around for other nests, I didn’t find anything promising, nor did I see potential parent birds hovering around. And even if I found a nest, how would I know it was the right one? So I brought the baby inside and made it a little home in a box lined with a soft cloth and tissue paper.

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This is our second experience with fragile baby birds. The first was on the 4thof July, 2016. You can read that story here (Fragile, July 9, 2016).  In that instance, Ret and I researched as best we could. The staff at the local exotic bird hospital advised us to put the baby back in its nest, or create a makeshift nest, place it high in the tree and hope its mother would return for it. This didn’t feel right to us, but we tried it anyway, because we didn’t know what else to do. The baby died in the oppressive heat. It was horrible. We vowed never to do such a thing again. So if this new little bird was going to die, it wasn’t going to be because we didn’t try to save it.

Hopeful intervention

As luck would have it, a friend connected me to a friend of hers, someone with many years of experience rehabilitating baby birds. She advised us on how to feed and care for it overnight, and gave us the name of a local animal hospital that could take over its care in the morning.

Feeling hopeful, Ret and I followed her instructions as best we could and were ecstatic when the hungry little bird tried to eat what we offered it. At bedtime, we tucked him into his box, covered him gently and placed him in the warmest spot we could find in our house.

But in the morning we awoke to find our sweet little bird had weakened dramatically overnight. And the recommended animal hospital informed us that they didn’t take in wild birds anymore, probably because of the futility. We prayed. We cried. We tried. Our little bird died anyway.

The intellectual part of me understands the high mortality rate of baby birds and acknowledges there was nothing I could do. It happens every day. Nestlings too young to fend for themselves are helpless, delicate, and need the care of real experts – like their parents. I know that. But this little bird was mine for a brief moment, so I’ll cry if I want to. Sometimes I just need to cry.

It’s my nature

There was a time when I was almost embarrassed by my soft-hearted nature. I can’t watch horror movies because they give me nightmares. I want to adopt every homeless dog, feed all the hungry children, save the elephants in Africa, visit every sick person in the hospital and wipe out the plastic trashing our oceans. Through some strange superpower that is both a blessing and a curse, I can often detect the emotional energy of people around me, and sometimes I feel their pain as my own. Over the years, I’ve come to accept this about myself and even appreciate it; it gives me greater perception in my relationships, and it often guides me as a yoga teacher. But sometimes it’s hard to be me.

As I dug a little grave beneath the gardenia bush, I talked to God about this. In Luke 10:20, Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care.”

So God, I hope you will receive this little one that I couldn’t save. I pray that he is now flying like an eagle in heaven with you. And please help me understand why I keep trying so hard, and caring so much, when I am powerless to end the suffering I see? Why do these things keep coming to me and breaking my heart? What do you want me to do? 

Kneeling in the garden beside the little grave, my soul heard an answer: There is only love.

Gardenia

What does this mean? There seems to be a whole lot going on in the world that has nothing whatsoever to do with love. And I can’t change any of those things. It feels futile to try.

But … even though we couldn’t save our little bird’s life, at least he didn’t die alone in the heat and the dirt. He was cared for and comforted. His passage to the other side was gentler.

Perhaps it means: Carry on. Keep the faith. Because, when I am faced with the choice to risk my heart by caring, or protect it with indifference, there’s really no decision for me to make. Maybe compassion and mercy can’t change the world. But maybe they can. It starts with me.

There is only love.

Namaste

In yoga circles, the word namaste is used as a greeting, an acknowledgement and a farewell. Expressed while bowing slightly and joining the palms together at the heart with the fingers pointing toward heaven, namaste is a Sanskrit word that means “I bow to you,” or, depending on who you ask, “I bow to the Divine in you.”

We don’t bow much in America, to the Divine or otherwise. Maybe we should.

It’s easy to get caught up in our own plans and needs, and forget that other beings have souls too. When I am focused on something, like getting to a destination or finding the brown rice on the supermarket shelf, I sometimes develop a strange tunnel vision that discounts the other people who are, like me, focused on reaching their destination or selecting a grain. If I’m in a hurry, which is almost always, I drive my CR-V (or my shopping cart) like I’m the only one on the road. Recently I realized that it’s my ego doing the driving. Everyone has a right to be here, even the guy puttering along in the left lane.

It’s all about me, part 1

My husband and I were on the highway traveling to visit my parents in Louisiana when this truth came home to me. We were at a rest stop and I was in a hurry to find the ladies’ room. I walked briskly past several people on my way, not making eye contact with any of them. Upon finding the restroom, I noticed a middle-aged man dressed in a custodian’s uniform standing near the door. He was wearing a ball cap and eyeglasses with thick lenses, and he looked up at me and inclined his head when I walked by. I ignored him altogether and entered the restroom.

Almost immediately, I began to wonder why I did that. This was a fellow human being extending a polite gesture and I didn’t give him a second glance. It was like he didn’t exist. I reflected on how many other times I’ve done this: probably hundreds. Of course, there are times when it’s safer not to make eye contact with strangers, but this really wasn’t one of those times. It was a bright summer afternoon and people were everywhere.

When I emerged from the ladies’ room, the custodian was still nearby, so I nodded and smiled at him and went on my way. I’m sure it wasn’t the high point of his day, but it made me feel better.

It’s all about me, part 2

But it was not to last. Soon after, I was at the ophthalmologist’s office for a minor surgical procedure. I was standing outside the ladies’ room (is this a pattern?) waiting for my turn for what became an increasingly long time. I was okay with waiting at first, but after a while I started to get impatient. I could hear movement behind the door, but minutes passed without the person making an exit. Shifting my weight from one foot to another, the little self in my head started complaining. What on earth was she doing in there? How long does it take to use the bathroom? Things like that.

Finally, to my great relief, the door opened. Slowly. Then an elderly gentleman started backing out of the room, guiding the wheelchair occupied by his frail, white-haired wife.

Feeling ashamed, I smiled at the couple and moved so the man could navigate the wheelchair past me. Ducking into the bathroom, I uttered a quick prayer of gratitude to God that I am healthy and ambulatory. It was no big deal for me to wait a few minutes. I had time.

Spiritual goals

Sometimes it’s hard to recognize just how much work I still have to do on myself. My meditation teacher encouraged us to challenge ourselves by setting spiritual goals and including consequences when we don’t meet them.

For example, one of my goals is to drive courteously and observe the speed limit, and if I fail – if I drive too fast or call other drivers unflattering names – my punishment fits the crime: I am not allowed to pass anyone else for the rest of the day, no matter how snail-like their driving. It’s been an educational experience for me.

You know, I’m starting to like the right lane.