08 June 2009

Every Little Sparrow Fallen

The death of little creatures is always shocking, no matter the time of day. Death becomes an obscenity in the silver and azure light of a perfect Sunday morning. The body was there, tiny, purplish and fringed with feathers like smoke. It lay nearly in the center of the path. The poor thing insulted by the assault of a gang of flies, nasty hooligans desecrating the memory of the departed, knocking over gravestones and despoiling flowers.

My breath caught in my throat. My left foot hesitated while I performed a stutter step to avoid trampling the body. My stomach lurched at the thought and I was grateful that I had seen it in enough time to avoid such a travesty. I heaved a deep sigh to lessen the pang of sorrow I felt balling up in my gut. I muttered to myself “It’s just a bird”, feeling a little foolish at my reaction. It is the way of the world that even the innocent, the fragile, the beautiful, cannot escape the brutality of death in the morning sun.

Walking and breathing in the perfect air and sunlight, I quickly put distance between myself and the little cairn of sadness that was the baby bird. The weather was perfect and the path around the lake was busy with people out for exercise and relaxation. The recent heavy rains had filled the lake up to brimming, and the greenery was lush and bursting with moisture. Out on the lake, the geese swam around in the lily pads. The starbursts of the lilies standing out brilliant white against the lime-greeniness of the lily pads. I was breathing deep of the air and slowly, slowly the clock spring in my belly began to unwind. It was, I told myself, a beautiful day.

Continuing on around the lake, I bathed in the glory of the light, the breeze, and the melodies of the birds carrying on in the trees. The simple act of walking just felt so good, it seemed impossible that anyone could remain in a funk. That was what I told myself, and I reckoned it was good enough to get me around to the other side of the lake.

Another third of a mile and I was across the first bridge, ambling along the flat part of the trail before it starts to wind itself up and down some gentle inclines on the north side. It is quieter here. Quieter in the sense that generally speaking there are fewer people on that side of the lake. The trees and the undergrowth are thicker. The atmosphere is closer, cooler, greener. It was as I worked my way up the first incline, under trees leaning in overhead, that the tears started.

One moment, at peace. The next, crying softly to myself. It was a complete surprise.

The trigger was a bird call. There was a sparrow or a finch, I really don’t know because I couldn’t see it. It was somewhere among the leaves singing its heart out. The image of the dead baby bird flashed in my mind, I was overwhelmed by a wave of sadness for it. I ran my hand across my face and sternly told myself to quit being so maudlin. It was just a bird, an unlucky little bird in a harsh universe. I snapped out of it and moved on.

Another hill, another birdsong, and another gout of tears. The image of the baby bird wouldn’t leave my head. What in the world was going on? It was going to be a hard slog the rest of the walk if I could not overcome the small sadness of that bird. Except for size, it was no different than the road kill deer I had seen earlier, another hapless victim. I shook my head desperately as if that would fling the images out of my mind. Walking faster also added some much needed distraction.

Crossing the second bridge, the “arboretum” lay just ahead. One of my favorite spots on the trail, it is a long, narrow stand of trees, of nearly all the same species. The path curves up from the bridge and elbows into a straight shot to the other end of the grove. The trees are all slender and tall. The branches high above curve out slightly, lending a nave-like feeling to the space beneath the trunks. The sun shone through the leaves, to dapple the path in spots of gold tinged with emeralds. I smiled slightly and took a deep breath of the sweet air as I entered the arboretum.

It was then a jagged chunk of memory fell from the sky, filtering through the leaves to land with excruciating agony on my head and shoulders. I stumbled and fell…

…into night, in the hospital, July of 2003. I was sitting in a chair in a room without windows. The sounds of sobbing reverberated in the small space. Nearby sat my wife, weeping. Her parents sat on a small couch, tissues in hand and heads bowed. I realized abruptly that much of the sobbing was coming from me. I had been weeping for some time, and showed no signs of stopping. Not anytime soon. I looked down.

The weight in my arms came clear. Inches from my red and swollen eyes were the tiny, pink face of my first born daughter. Her eyes were shut, never to open again. I could see the faint traces of the medical brutalities that had been administered in a heroic but ultimately futile attempt to save her life. I remembering gasping, my heart caving in on itself, writhing like a worm on a hook. I furiously tried to blink away the tears, her visage swimming in and out of focus. Her feathery body was threatening to escape my arms and float away, borne on a wind of misfortune.

Our darling little bird. She had been born too early to leave the nest. Overtaken by a life started much too early, and too frail to fight off the worst the universe had to offer. A feathery pink-purple angel swaddled in clothes she was never meant to wear. Amidst the sounds of broken hearts, I caressed her cool cheek and begged God to let the bird sing, if even for a little while longer…

Sharp white sunlight filled my eyes with stars, ethereal spangles floating in a film of hot liquid saltiness. Stepping from the shadows of the arboretum and into the sun was a small shock, like getting hit with a bucket of warm water after a cool bath. I found myself walking slowly down the path and breathing as if sipping the air. I could not recall having walked through the trees, but there I was, in a daze and blinking as if I had seen a ghost.

Which I suppose was true in some way.

I wiped my face with the back of my hand, struggling to regain my composure. Somewhere up ahead, another bird trilled a love song of my memory. I reached out my hand to shield my eyes from the glare of the sun. I could not see the source of the warbling.

But in my heart, another bird echoed the song, an exquisite duet. I moved forward into the cerulean embrace of a lovely Sunday morning, satisfied that God hears every little sparrow that falls.

I know I do.


Many thanks to Flux Capacitor for additional synchronicity. Go here for enlightenment and perspective. Thank you, Maggie May; may you find peace.


  1. *eyes brimmed with tears*

  2. Lovely and heart-wrenching.
    I cannot imagine.

  3. xxxooo
    Walking is therapeutic, but sometimes it isn't easy.

  4. Journeys are not always meant to be what we had hoped, sometimes they are more, sometimes less, but the reality is if you keep walking the sun will rise, the star’s will assemble and life will always sing the songs of spring, summer and fall…and mourn with the blanket of winter’s silent cold hand.

  5. Okay why does this journey seem all to familiar? Anelisa Diane Dillion, March 1, 1986-July 14, 2000; rest in peace little bird...you are flying now...

  6. What a heart breakingly beautiful tribute.

  7. I've been enjoying youir writing, thank you. So much so that I've bestowed upon you the Kreativ Bloggers award.

    Feel free to stop by and pick it up!

  8. Beautifully written Irish..

  9. I wish I had beautiful words for you, but I can't get past these tears. I know a lot of good people where your little angel is.
    Sending love and prayers from California-


  10. Yes, He does hear every sparrow. Rest in that.

  11. To all, thank you so much for your kind words and thoughts. From my heart to ours, thank you.

  12. This tragic beauty, this life. It is almost too beautiful, too horrid to take sometimes, isn't it?

  13. Flutter: Exactly. You said it, exactly.

  14. What a sweet and poignant post, so heartwrenching and perfectly written. Merci!

    peaceful blessings.

  15. Such a hard thing to endure, and such a generous thing to share with someone else who's in pain.

  16. it hits us in unexpected places, doesn't it?

  17. "...satisfied that God hears every little sparrow that falls."

    That simply HAS to be true.


"Let your laws come undone
Don't suffer your crimes
Let the love in your heart take control..."

-'The Hair Song', by Black Mountain

Tell me what is in your heart...