A couple years ago we encountered a little visitor in our yard.
She was a small chipping sparrow who I had noticed after a time, moved in a quirky sort-of way. She would sit on the rail of our deck very oddly and we couldn’t figure out quite why. Still, I was glad that she found our yard to be a place of welcome and refuge.
One day toward the end of the summer as we were draining our small pool, I was aghast to find our little feathered friend stuck in the remaining two inches of water at the bottom.
My two children were playing on the swing set and dashed over curiously, as I tip-toed into the pool to carefully lift her out. She was, thankfully, still alive.
With drenched feathers and large fearful eyes, her little heart pattered quickly. I stroked her small quivering breast softly, with my children now on each side of me, intensely looking on.
“It’s okay little birdy, you’re gonna be okay,” my daughter uttered.
Yet as I began to set her down gently on the grass, I noticed that her legs were bent and contorted in a fixed position under her body. Her wings worked, but her legs didn’t. And she had been submerged so her wings were of no help to her.
As I realized this, I showed my kids, and my son cooed, “Awww, poor little bird! She couldn’t hop around like the other birds.”
“Yes,” I shared, “that’s why I think she found comfort on our deck, where she could watch the other birds at the feeder until the right time came around to fly in without being afraid.”
As I tried to paint an optimistic picture for my children however, I was still uneasy knowing that while this bird could fly, her non-working legs had nearly cost her little life.
Eventually our feathered friend dried off, and we watched her gather herself before she flew away, sailing just below the pine tree at the edge of our yard. I was relieved that she appeared to be okay, knowing that at least she could fly.
After that day, we never saw our little sparrow again. I have often pondered to myself (as have my children) what might have happened to her.
Today I am just thankful for her little presence in our lives, even for that brief moment two summers ago. She was my teacher.
As I have struggled to recover from serious traumatic injuries throughout the past year and a half, and as I think about the patients I continue to visit in the hospital I spent time at, I am humbled by the realization of what a crazy idealist I have always been. Having worked in the helping profession for many years, what had always driven my passion was the desire to help people—to lessen or eliminate their suffering and pain.
Just as I could not give this little swallow her legs back, I know that I cannot ease folks of their physical suffering.
What I believe we can do though, is lift each other up and out of what keeps us wallowing, submerged and stuck. We can take refuge in the understanding of our shared brokenness.
And we can, in spirit, hold each other in the collective palms of our hands long enough to feel our common, wondering, fearful beating hearts.
My little sparrow friend has helped me to embrace the realization that though our bodies may be ailing or imperfect, with a little help from each other we can still soar toward the sun.
Chris received her Master of Social Work degree from Loyola University, Master of Arts in Religious Studies from Cardinal Stritch University, and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Pastoral Counseling from Neumann College. She has worked in the field of mental health, social services, retreat work and ministry for over twenty years….until deciding to become a “stay-at-home mom” to parent her children with special needs (the hardest, yet most important career choice of all). On November 30th of 2011, Chris suffered a 27 foot rock-climbing fall, and has been working her way back to health for the past year-and-a-half after having suffered severe, debilitating orthopedic injuries.
Ed: Elysha Anderson
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