Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Flight of the inadvertent intruder

To the bird who fate placed at precisely the same point in time and space as the approximate midpoint of the windshield of our minivan just west of Kingston, Ontario earlier this afternoon, I am deeply sorry. Before we even knew you were there, you were gone, a frighteningly instantaneous thud followed by a fast-receding, spinning black body in my rear-view mirror.

We didn't mean for your life to end so suddenly. It wasn't your fault that humans placed the highway precisely in the middle of your flyway, or that, on this beautifully sunny day, you decided to break with your flock for some low-level flight. The world works in strange ways, I guess, and in some perverse, cosmological manner, this was your time.

This will come as no comfort to you, of course - even when you were alive, you didn't read, let alone go online and read blogs like this one - but the brief crossing of your path with ours gave us ample opportunity to discuss the fragility of life as we continued our journey home. We spoke to the kids about the need to appreciate what we have, because there's never any way to know when it could be ripped away in a heartbeat. Or less.

The timing of our meeting was opportune. We were on our way home from Montreal, where we had attended my late father's unveiling. In Jewish tradition, an unveiling is when the engraved gravestone is revealed to the mourners. It typically occurs a few months after the funeral, and it is a ritual that, like so many other aspects of Jewish mourning, is designed as a milestone for those left behind, a meaningful way to put our grief into perspective and make it a part of our lives. We don't get over death, after all. We integrate it into our souls, and my dad's unveiling was a tangible reminder of how we had changed since that awful day last September, and how we will continue to change from this point forward.

I'll have more to say about this weekend in the days and weeks to come. For now, I find myself thinking about loss, and how I'm glad I'm not a bird. Because I get to appreciate life long after it ends, and I'm not entirely sure we can say the same thing about the bird we met, and then lost, earlier today.

Your turn: Finding something after loss. Please discuss.


Minnesota Mamaleh said...

really, really beautiful description of life, death and mourning. indeed, our people do all of these in a slow paced, beautiful way. i am sorry for your losses and am impressed with the dialogue that ensued with your children. thanks for sharing this!

Tabor said...

I have accidentally hit a bird in a car in it certainly leaves a heavy feeling in the pit of ones stomach. I am sure this was even more meaningful for all of you because of the prior trip. I like the mourning rituals of the Jewish faith. They make sense.

theMuddledMarketPlace said...

The threads of life seem to carry on being woven around us ....precious time....

bobbie said...

Carmi, I know how you felt when you hit the bird - or the bird hit you. It happened to me on the Belt Pkwy in NY years ago. I still recall the feeling clearly.

You also brought back memories speaking of the unveiling. For me it was standing in the pouring rain, for a dear friend. I had not thought of him for a long time, and your words brought him back to me for a while.

fredamans said...


David Edward said...

i will need some coffee before I can comment on this one

Christine Gram said...

Finding something after loss: I was always kind of a loner as a child. And felt strange that I preferred to stay out of the crowd. I wondered what was wrong with me, if it was my choice or if it was because other people didn't like me.

At my grandmother's funeral my senior year of high school I found myself walking in a procession of paired members of my family. I was walking alone, but as that uneasiness peeped out its ugly head I felt a warm reassurance that my grandmother was with me.

With time I grew and became more confident in myself. I realized that we shouldn't worry so much about what other people may or may not be thinking.

I think the loss of my grandmother helped me to start believing in myself.

Tony Gasbarro said...

fredamans -- I don't even know you...

Carmi-- I don't know if I've found anything after the loss of my father. Maybe your faith affects the way you perceive events and colors their significance to you.

As an atheist, I don't see symbolism in unusual events or odd coincidence. All I know is that as long as I have memories of my father, he is not dead, and when something reminds of him — and my mother, as well — if it doesn't make me cry, I smile. I have no belief that they can hear me, but just as when they would walk in to my day when they were alive, I still say, "Hello."

One day, when I was stationed in Germany while in the U.S. Air Force, I drove my car from my base to the village of Landstuhl, near Ramstein Air Base. On the way there a bird swooped a little too low over the highway, and my experience was nearly identical to yours: startling thud on the windshield, reflection in my rear-view mirror of the lifeless body falling to the ground in my wake, a small smudge of oil and dander on the windshield where the bird met its fate.... But then, in the village of Landstuhl, as I drove along the curving streets toward my destination, a bird stood in the gutter pecking at some morsel of food. Usually a bird flits out of the way of an oncoming car in plenty of time to escape, but this morsel of food must have been especially scrumptious, because the nearer I got to the bird, and the more I expected it to fly off, the more determined the bird was to get its fill. Traffic was thick, so I had nowhere to go and, too late to brake, I ran right over the bird. In my mirror, one feather stood upright over the flattened carcass, almost as though a fist shaken at me in anger.

Two birds in one day... in ONE TRIP. I felt awful.

Glennis said...

Oh, dear. We once had a bird fly into an open window of our speeding car and explode in a ball of feathers on a part of the interior. It was a small bird, just a tiny thing.

I can only suppose it was so fast for the creature it didn't suffer - it barely knew.

How sudden, how swift death can come.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I have had a very different experience in the past 5 weeks.
My phone call in the middle of the night was from an alive but very shaken teenager who had crashed his (dad's) car in the woods. The car is gone and will not be replaced -- a lesson to all 3 of our teenagers. Today he experienced the mercy of a kind trooper and kind judge; after entering his guilty plea, he was fined $125 (plus court fees) and allowed to leave.
My bird (a 19yo boy) crashed and lived; even today, we are continually reminded of life's fragility.

young-eclectic-encounters said...

What a moving poignant post which brought out many deep feelings in me. What a beautiful way you used the opportunity to teach and reach your children.
One of the reasons why I have a blog is to help me deal with the grief and reality of a failing fragile body and the lessons and blessing that have come into my life because of it; my greater appreciation of what I have. My last post is just one sample
Johnina :^A