It could be said that the idea of trading places with an animal holds appeal. In this daily rat race that is required in order to keep up with the economic demands of staying alive, it would be nice to figure out a way to not have to work for someone else. To not have to rely on capitalist labor in order to ensure food in the belly or a roof overhead. This thought revisits me over and over again. The insanity of it. The runnng joke. We work our lives away.
Later in life, much later, as I lay dying at the St Joan of Arc Hospital, the view from my window only reinforced this belief. My room looked out on a marvelous interior courtyard that had been planted with a beautiful maple and a couple of birch trees. The staff had outfitted the space with bird feeders and a bird bath. There was a small pond that had a lovely little bridge that patients and guests could enjoy as they watched ducks paddle around below.
Over the course of my treatment, I would gaze out my window at the comings and goings of the birds and on good days, the staff would roll me out to the courtyard where I could sit in my chair and feel the breeze waft through the few strands of hair that I had left, and I would sit quietly and smile at the birds. Oh how I wished I had been born a bird. Wouldn’t that have been something.
The innocence of that thought was silly really, but in that moment… when my life was passing me by and moving towards an end, the idea of a bird’s life in place of the difficult one that I had just led, gave me the slightest glimmer of joy. Yes, joy.
In my younger days, I can remember sitting in another park on an early spring day. It was that moment when the trees were just beginning to ‘spring’ new leaves, tiny buds really. On that particular day, I sat there and watched as the world seemed to come to life after a stark and dismal winter. Squirrels were prancing from the underbrush of one fir tree to another. Birds were chirping and I could see a hawk soaring overhead. The idea of being able to fly from branch to branch, or to feel the air tickle my feathers- you know, being “free as a bird”; well, the notion stuck with me. It took hold. And every time I saw a bird or heard a lyrical song play between two feathered souls, a call and response dialogue, it would refresh me. It seemed to me that these souls had a unique freedom from worry, a freedom from fear. But that is where the ignorance lies, the obliviousness of the silly thought. Yes, it’s all wrong. I was wrong.
If I had known this before making my dying wish to Mr. Otto, I might have saved myself a lot of anxiety and avoided some of my near miss encounters. But then, I would have also missed the glory of it all too. With the good comes the bad, and vice versa.
Even in a bird’s life, there are the peaks and valleys of existence. For birds must be vigilant day and night as they manage the balance between meeting their basic needs and staying safe from harm. This is not a life of leisure, not by any stretch. Forever on the look-out for that predator lurking overhead or under the brush. From the red fox to the hawk, it’s amazing the birds have anything to sing about at all! But sing they must. And while to humans it seems they are singing, in truth, they are just communicating as they know how.
It would have been nice if someone had bothered to point all of this out to me before that fateful day a year ago when I morphed. I had not thought of all the dangers while I was propped up by pillows in bed at night or stuffed into the chair and pushed into the courtyard by day.
All I saw back then were the advantages of the transition. I never thought about the life threatening daily events that follow a bird’s life.
For me, it had been all about the those vast meadows where I observed dainty yellow breasted meadowlarks hanging onto the tippy tops of tall grasses, swaying in the wind and opening their mouths wide in order to let out the most melodious strings of notes. What a delight.
When I was asked for my dying wish, it was the image of those beautiful birds dotting long and tangled branches of the maple tree outside the room, as they chatted noisily with one another, that made me want to be part of such a charming community. Instead of the lonely existence that I now led, withering away in this ward with no visitors stopping by to see me; instead of all of that- I wanted to fly away. The isolation was overwhelming. As I watched those birds, the idea occurred to me that being part of a vast network of birds – might be nice.
It never occurred to me that my request to Mr. Otto would be fulfilled. If it had, I would have thought it through much more carefully. I would have considered what type of bird I wanted to be, and what kind of song I might have wanted to sing. I would have been much more practical too; I may have asked to be a predator rather than a typical prey. I wish he had asked me for more of an opinion on the specifics of my final incarnation. If it had been up to me, I would perhaps have chosen to be a Osprey, for all the reasons that an Osprey is so amazing. If it could have mattered, I would have crafted my existence to include closeness to the sea, to the waters and to the cliffs. I would have asked to be an Osprey living in the Midwest in summer and I would choose to migrate to South America in winter. Oh the decisions I would have liked to have made. Rather than the vulnerable Chickadee I became, I would have wanted to be stronger and more bold, courageous and majestic.
But that is the trouble in life. We can’t choose. We must accept and make the best of things. And, this is the rub. All of us must take what we are given and carry on.
I spy the bird bath at Mrs. Green’s back deck is vacant now, those dominant Bluebirds have moved on. I check the sky and the tops of trees. It seems safe, so I venture out for a splash in her clean waters. As I jump into the waters from the perch of the bath’s rim, I bounce around a few times, jumping up and down until my wings feel properly expelled of the twigs and seeds from various encounters in the bush. Refreshed, I move onto the wire mesh feeder nearby for a few seeds of nourishment. And, within my being I thank Mrs. Green for her loveliness in providing a few basic essentials for us feathered souls to enjoy as spring warms into summer.