Last week, Lucy got a baby bird. I often think of Lucy as our very own precious, little pup, but she sure seemed like a giant with that tiny, fragile robin chick in her droopy, slobbery muzzle.
We know from experience that any time the beagles collide with nature’s fauna, the results aren’t pretty. From the shrill bays over passing deer, to that baby rabbit they tossed around like a stuffed toy, to the last few birds who’ve mistakenly fallen or landed in our yard, tragedy is sure to follow.
This evening, I wandered in and out, yo-yoing aimlessly as I do (I’m the queen of piddling around at home and can begin 5 chores in an hour without ever accomplishing one). A little pause to thin out the zinnias, back in to organize my bathroom drawer, back out do a little weeding, back in to google tomato cage styles, back out to admire the gladiolus, back in to do my hair for dinner with girlfriends from church.
But as I picked up my flat iron and fussed with my hair, I heard THAT bark. Dog lovers know what I mean; we’re well versed in what each bark, whimper, snort, and growl means. They’re distinct when you really know your dog.
Not the “Let me in!” bark.
Not the “A neighbor is walking!” bark.
Not the “You have a toy I want!” bark.
This was the very particular, “WE HAVE SOMETHING AMAZING!” bark. Urgent, high pitched, and panicked, this bark told me a simple, “No” wouldn’t do.
I looked out and saw it. Lucy’s mouth. And from it, a wing. And beside her, the little maple sapling that had held the most precious robin quadruplets.
Not again! The second bird this month. And yet, this time it hit me harder, like a punch to the gut. Dismay.
I loved those birds, y’all. From finding bright blue shell fragments while mulching; to seeing their bare, alien skin; to watching them cry out to their mother for food; to seeing their feathers fill in, I’ve loved every second of them living in our yard (though Mother Bird always complained loudly from a nearby fence or tree when I would take a quick peak).
I knew Lucy would rather do just about anything besides walking away from that bird. To her, my horror and dramatic yelling was just her master trying to rob her of a wonderful surprise.
I sprayed her with the hose in desperation, and that little bird dropped to the hard ground while Lucy dashed away to hide in the hydrangea bushes.
Before I knew it, I’d run to it and had scooped it up in my hands. The warmth of its tiny body radiated through the skin of my palms. Though its neck was flopping and its legs were limp, I began to search for signs of life.
Was its chest rising and falling?
Could I see a tiny heartbeat?
Could I feel a little heartbeat?
I found myself hoping and praying and pumping with one finger on its tiny chest, expecting it to spring back to life. Nothing.
After a moment of horrified stillness, I raised made some raucous noise.
I burst back into the house, bird in my open hand, and slammed open the door to our room, where my precious husband was sleeping soundly in preparation for his night shift.
I woke him, tripping over my words as I spat them out, “Wake up! There’s a bird! Lucy got him! Is he dead? Is he gone? Can we save him? Look! Wake up! Hurry!”
He jumped from the bed, took a good look, and tenderly touched my shoulder as he calmly said, “No, Lindsey. He’s gone. I’m so sorry.”
Friends, if you know anything about my husband, you know his job is to deal with things much darker, sadder, and harder than the backyard bird. Just this week, he told me about a couple of young people whose time had come much too soon.
I cried anyway, feeling the folly of my tears in front of a man who has solemnly and calmly told me about true human suffering many times. Yet here I stood, weeping to him over a bird.
He could have corrected me for my folly. Of course this bird was a goner.
He could have reminded me of how desperately under rested he is.
He could have shamed me for being so insensitive after the losses he’s seen lately.
But instead, he quickly dressed, suggested we take the bird to the front yard, and quietly went to find a shovel as I slumped on the porch stoop and wept.
“This was so silly, I knew it was gone.” I stammered apologetically.
“It’s OK,” he replied kindly.
He squinted in the sun as he dug a hole for the bird in our shade garden bed. I apologized again, thanking him for helping me, guilt sinking in at how ridiculous and childish it was to wake him up over a dead bird instead of calmly discarding it in my hands.
“It’s OK,” he said again, sincerely.
I thought about the fragile, hopeful, newness that is a baby bird. And how, in an instant, it was gone.
I ranted about how warm he had been, then admitted he was getting cooler in my hand as minutes passed. “I know,” he said gently.
I sat right beside him, shoulder to shoulder and asked him to pray. For a bird, y’all. Like he shared my feelings of loss. Crazy though it may sound, it felt like his little life needed to be acknowledged, and I could barely speak.
So, my strong husband prayed on my behalf tenderly, if unsure of exactly what to say at a bird funeral on the spot.
He thanked the Lord for the bird’s short life. He expressed sorrow that he never got to fly. He thanked the Lord for his wife’s tender heart.
Then, leaned back so I could gingerly place the bird in the hole, carefully arranging his legs and wings like he was in a nest, settling in for slumber.
“There, he looks nice.” I said. He nodded back. Then, he buried the bird.
We used a little stepping stone to mark his grave. And I apologized again.
“I’m sorry. I should have let you sleep. You’ve seen so much and this must be the dumbest thing.”
“No,” He said, “Always wake me up for things like this. I love your heart. It’s good not everyone is just like me.”
And, as the spouse who couldn’t even bring herself to pronounce a clearly-dead bird “dead,” I could say the same about myself.
Being married to someone so the opposite of me has been quite an adventure for us both. But, in Jesus, it’s been the sweetest journey of inching closer to the middle.
Me loving his tough. Him loving my tender.
Thank you, Lord, for a man who is strong enough to do the hard things, and kind enough to give a bird a proper funeral.