old (2008), Uncategorized

wisdom to know the difference

Arriving home up the back stairs this afternoon, hot and sticky from two hours stuck in traffic on I-94, I hear a bird. I look up and see a wren flinging her small body against the skylight, trying to escape. Remembering how my brother once caught a bat in his attic apartment using a towel or a tennis racket or something, I call Sweety to ask for advice on the possibilities. “Nothing,” he says, “not without hurting her.”

Thinking he is wrong, I plead my case to The Philosopher when I pick up Rebel for the night.

“There’s a bird stuck in my back staircase,” I say.

“There’s nothing you can do,” says The Philosopher, “Except make sure to leave a door open somewhere.”

I panic.

“But it’s three floors down,” I say. “How is she supposed to know to fly downstairs?”

“She might not,” he acknowledges. “But there really isn’t anything you can do without hurting her.”

Rebel cuts in and starts telling me a story about bugs who can escape through keyholes, trying to make me feel less culpable for what I imagine will end up being the beginning of the story of how I buried a bird who ended up dead on my back porch beneath the skylight after thousands of failed attempts to escape.

I have things to carry up and down those stairs, work that should be done — this evening — that entails lugging boxes and bags and odds and ends through that back staircase. But every time I think I’m ready, I look out my kitchen window and see the tiny bird perched on the staircase, anthropomorphized into a sad little creature desperately begging me for help everyone tells me I should not and cannot offer.

Then there is my cat, who knows the bird is there, who is all but salivating every time I tiptoe to the door to see if she has managed to escape after all. Her cat food isn’t good enough, the attention I give her isn’t affectionate enough, the water isn’t wet enough… it’s that bird she wants, not me or my man-made food offerings.

And so here we are, an odd lot: a little boy sleeping down the hall, the aftertaste of stories of escaped bugs on his lips; a tortoiseshell cat who ambles every few minutes to the back door, where she sniffs and yowls and appears generally restless and inconsolable; and a thirtysomething woman who grapples with the unmanageable aspects of nature, and of life.

Both Sweety and The Philosopher are correct about the bird, but I find them difficult to believe because I do not want them to be right. I desperately desire to be able to save all living things who live in pain or frustration or terror or just plain confusion. And I’ve managed to check this instinct in myself when it comes to people, for the most part. I can get a phone call from The Cute Carpenter in which he admits he has relapsed badly and hang up and realize that I can no longer associate with him for fear of losing my own sanity and serenity. People… well, people I’ve figured out I can neither save nor redeem. But can it really be the case that I’ve developed a codependent relationship with the animal kingdom?

As with everything… action can change my thoughts but not vice versa. So what will I do? I will get on my shoes, and I will bring the things up and down those stairs that I need to bring up and down those stairs. I have no other option than to sit here in my apartment and stew all night not only about that poor bird but also all of the things I cannot get done because of that poor bird — but both “the poor bird” and “all of the things I cannot get done” are constructs of my imagination. Or, more accurately, by framing them that way, I am making the choice to see them as impossible and unmanageable.

Really, I need to accept that I can’t do anything about the bird. (It is not likely that either Sweety or The Philosopher are lying to me.) I don’t need to deny that her situation breaks my heart — just as The Cute Carpenter’s relapse does — but restricting my own life and actions because I can’t do anything is just a tad bit ridiculous. Probably. Just don’t ask me right now what I’ll do if I wake up tomorrow morning and the bird is dead on my back porch.

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