Jun 15 • 5M

Broken birds and cosmic repair

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I was driving our car down CA 24-E, a tiny squeak barely perceptible from the backseat, when it occurred to me: I honestly didn’t think I was this kind of person, and suddenly, here I am.

This kind of person, in this case, is the kind of person who finds a tiny, squeaking animal who appears to be abandoned and spends the next 24 hours completely subsumed with figuring out how to rescue it. I’m talking tiny pipettes full of sugar water, desperately googling about desired bird temperatures, and a roller coaster of emotions—all for a newly hatched quail.

I don’t even particularly like birds. But liking birds, as it turns out, isn’t really the point.

When I woke up Sunday morning, I texted my friend Dan a happy birthday greeting, and told him, among other adoring things, that I would be paying “extra attention to the birds” that day in his honor (he is a very dedicated birder). I meant it, but I assumed this attention would be dispersed from afar. I smiled at some plucky little hummingbirds, cawed back at some histrionic crows, even had a brief conversation with a toy store owner about the bird that had taken residence in the light fixture above the front door.

But around 7pm, my daughters and I noticed a tiny, squeaking lump of feathers was hopping around on some flagstone in front of us. It was frantic with a tiny beak and supersized feet (the aforementioned Googling would lead to videos on “How to splint baby quail feet”—long live this aspect of the Internet). We tried to examine it and it jumped straight into my 8-year-old’s lap, like she was the one that the bird had been waiting for. “We probably shouldn’t take it home,” I said to the girls while eyeing my husband and shrugging.

Part of me really didn’t want to take the bird home. This part of me knew it would add up to a lot of unexpected labor and research and probably be way more work than I actually wanted to put into this feathery orphan. A sentimental and silly act.

But part of me was already falling down the black hole of a new, foreign feeling. I didn’t care if it was sentimental or a time suck. I wanted to see where this story led.

Now this is where I would like to press pause and say something probably painfully obvious to everyone else but revelatory to me, as someone who thought I wasn’t this kind of person. When the world is going to shit, or so it seems, rescuing even the smallest fluff of feathers with awkwardly large feet feels like some kind of cosmic repair. There was almost no rational reason to put this tiny creature in a box, lined with paper towel, and watch it obsessively for the next 24 hours. Almost. But this is the sense it made to my body at the time: resist death.

That’s it: resist death. In any and all forms. Don’t let even one creature die alone. There is too much dying. There is too much alone. There are too many of us walking away from brokenness, choosing our well laid plans instead. Too many of us deciding that it’s someone else’s responsibility—lawmakers, Mother Nature, fate—to make the world and its headlines tolerable.

If this baby quail died, I realized, I wanted it to be after someone stood up against the fading of its tiny light, even though, especially though, they didn’t have to. They being us. They being me, a person who didn’t think I was this kind of person.

The baby quail, who we dubbed Squeaky Dan, made it through the night, but didn’t have many squeaks left in the morning. Thankfully there was a wild animal rescue hospital nearby—the kind of place where a volunteer named Sally with a warm, wrinkled face reaches out for your cardboard box and looks at you, not like you are too sensitive for this world of AK-15s and filibusters, but that you are just right, that going to great lengths for a tiny bird is the least one can do if they have the pleasure of gracing this green earth at this tectonic mindfuck of a moment.

We get to call Sally tomorrow to find out if Squeaky Dan made it. But whether or not he made it, like whether or not I like birds, isn’t the point. The point is to listen to your sensitive 8-year-old—whether she’s your actual daughter or a part of you that has survived all the cynicism of the world. To let 24 hours be swept away, because we are not so super important after all. To take responsibility for the vulnerable right where we are. To let life ask things of us. To become a kind of person we didn’t know we were. To stand against the fading of the light, any light, even the smallest of lights—and let the stand keep us human.