A family of sparrows came with the eaves of our house when we moved in. Though we keep different hours, we've been good neighbors. Yesterday when we returned home we found a dead baby sparrow on the sidewalk below the nest. It was mostly pink and fleshy, just the start of feathers and eyes still closed. It's something that happens once a season, a sparrow falls and is deposited in the garden. This is the first dead sparrow my daughter noticed, and she cried. I came home tired and hungry with little idea about dinner that night, so I admit to thinking that the sparrow died on the sidewalk at an inconvenient time. I was also a little repulsed by the scene. Despite my thinking, I followed instincts that slowed me down and allowed the time to be led. Josie wanted to be held as she cried, and she wanted me to help her be brave as she got a closer look at the bird. It seemed like the more fragile she understood it to be, the more upset she got. She wanted to hold it. The dead sparrow with barely a feather and obvious trauma to its head. My thoughts went to the germ potential, the odds that I'd be able to pick it up with the shovel while she wasn't looking, the possibility that maybe my husband would come home soon so that I could hand this off and get dinner started. And I found myself sitting with Josie in my lap, cupping the tiny sparrow body together. The words came to me to tell her that the sparrow isn't using this body anymore, kind of like a shell. I told her that the baby sparrow isn't in any pain now and that this part we're holding is the part that can be returned to nature. I don't know how I did this, because there were still alarms going off in my head about the blood and the germs and the sincere wish that I not retch at thinking too long about this rubbery bird body. Josie cried and I asked her to tell me what she was thinking about the bird, what was bringing tears, and she mostly said how sad she was that she wasn't able to save the baby bird and that she had wanted to stop it from falling. Yes, honey, yes, of course that's what your immense heart is wanting, and that brings tears. I explained that sometimes things happen that we can't understand and that we wish we could change somehow, and those are the times when we sit and cry. Maybe that last part was more for me than her, she seemed to have it well in hand. We picked out a spot for the bird in the garden and Josie decorated it with bits of flowers and leaves. After scrubbing our hands she drew a picture for the bird "bi bi brd. hop you had a hppi lfe" and set it under a rock outside.
I'm so grateful for the grace that allowed me to be present to my daughter. Who knows whether she'll remember this, I'm changed for it. I let the moment have me, and the moment had everything I needed. I let go of my stories that keep me at a safe distance, and got the chance to sit in complete mystery with wonder and awe and big emotions. If Josie does remember, I hope what she remembers is her capacity to love with her wide-open heart especially in the times when it's really all we can do.