I was still in bed this morning, reading very important things about the fallout over Blizzard and Valve double-booking their upcoming tournament events, when a sudden bass thump jolted me fully awake.
I looked over to where the sound had come from. There, stuck to the window, was a small spray of spittle and a dust mark that was vaguely wing shaped.
So I swung my legs out of bed, walked over to the window and looked down.
Crumpled in a mess of feathers and tiny scaled claws, was a dove, brown against the bright, heavily-fertilized green of my lawn.
For a moment I hoped that it might simply be knocked out, and that it would awake in a moment and shuffle off. His flock must’ve thought the same thing, as there were no less than 9 of them perched along the fence, staring down at their injured friend.
I looked back down and saw its wing lift upward feebly, and I noticed its small neck was twisted around in an unnatural way. He was seriously hurt. His little beak opened and closed, opened and closed, as if silently screaming in pain.
My chest tightened, and I felt my shoulders go slack.
I realized there was nothing I could do but hope (the secular version of “pray”), that he’d be okay. So, I wandered over to the shower, stepped in, and hoped as hard as I could for him.
And as I did, I thought of the folly of such a thing. How ridiculous is it, I thought, to be concerned over the pain of one little bird? The picture of Earth, taken earlier this week from the vantage point of Saturn’s rings, came to mind.
The death of one tiny bird, on that tiny dot, afloat in a massive and indifferent universe. Just a little brown ball of carbon that mistakenly saw wide open sky reflected in the insulated, double-paned glass of my bedroom window.
My first reaction was, “yeah, in the ‘Grand Scheme™,’ it doesn’t mean anything at all.”
But a small voice in the back of my mind began to disagree.
It occurred to me that, given that very same vantage point, the tiny life of that bird might actually be MORE important, given how cold and empty the rest of our universe seems. That all life here, however small, seems amazing by comparison…when you consider the absence of it everywhere else we’ve looked.
Which had the effect of making its suffering seem even more tragic.
I finished my shower and immediately walked over to check on him, again with the hope that he had come to his faculties, and flown away.
Perhaps slightly dazed.
A little sore.
Undoubtedly a bit more wary of box-shaped skies.
He was still there. He’d uncoiled himself from the unnatural position he was in before, and was now simply laying flat on his belly, his beak resting on the ground. I noticed the flock that had been standing sentinel above him had begun to dwindle in numbers.
The thought that crept into my mind then is one that we all feel when confronted with suffering.
“Can I make it better? Can I make it stop?”
I decided I probably could, but that I’d wait and see if there was any improvement.
So I went on about my morning. Fed the dogs, then myself. Prepared my coffee. Took my vitamins. Packed my lunch. Then I went into the backyard to check on the dove.
Still there, though it had obviously tried to fly as it was a couple feet away from its original position. Its feet were now sticking upward, and its head was again twisted around underneath one wing.
Only one bird was left on the fence, but it screeched with anger at me as I approached his broken friend.
The poor thing flopped and flipped in a piteous attempt to get away from me, so I stopped my approach, turned around, and went back into the house.
I did some dishes, washed the dog’s toys, browsed some Reddit, and, after running out of distractions, came to the sad realization that the bird was never going to fly again. Not only that, the temperature was supposed to breach the 100° mark today and I couldn’t simply let it suffer for hours, then die of dehydration/heat exhaustion.
So I went out to the garage, picked up my hedge clippers and a trash bag, and walked slowly toward the backyard.
The last of the bird’s flock had left. And it lay still until it saw me coming. When it did, it began to flop around again, although this time with much less fervor. I gently pressed my foot down on his belly to hold him still, opened the trimmers wide, and slid the blades on either side of his neck. Then, before either of us had much time to think about what was happening, I snapped them shut and twisted.
The dove’s whole body tensed, its eyes went wide and one wing reached upward, as if in one last attempt to ride away on the wind. Then it began to slack, with small pauses of tension as it slowly lowered to the ground, and as its grey eyelids slid shut.
In that moment, I heard my own voice say, “please…please go…please just go…”
I have no idea why I said that.
But when I realized that I had, I kneeled down next to the bird’s body, put my face in my hands, and sobbed.