When I was a girl, my house and heart became an animal refuge. Occasionally intentional but mostly accidental, I dreamt of days filled with limping animals to whom I might offer my service. I offered safe haven to any and all creatures broken or battered, and through continuous strings of failures and rebirth I discovered how to live.
An experience I vividly remember occurred one summer night eleven years ago. Sweet Pea, beloved family cat, sustained a reputation in our family for his ability to hunt flawlessly efficient. Fiercely protective of his territory, he fought for his yard with tooth and claw, uncaring and indifferent to the terror swelling in his chosen prey.
The sparrow he brought home that night was so tiny and perfect it resembled an intricate miniature sculpture painted with brilliant streaks of vermilion surrounding its pierced ribcage. I observed its limp form with childish fascination. Something so delicate surely lived only to embody beauty, unexpectedly struck down in the endless night.
My sister presented it cupped in her hands, and I observed its spark of light as though morbidly amused by the prospect of such inconsequential death. Taking broken feathers and bleary eyes out of the house into the yard, away from the protesting executioner, we climbed onto the play tower and offered last moments to the stars; my stomachs sank as I watched breaths become slight and shallow.
She began to pray, honoring an avian life enough to present its dying embers before God. I thought of that verse and wondered if this one, too, fell under His will. Yet the prayer lingered, blind to what little blood this creature possessed pooling across its breast.
And then, with a flutter of wings and an indignant chirp, the bird seized up and thrust itself from the encaging palm, leaving only a fragmented memory in its wake.
Remembering it now, I realize that moment decided my destiny for me. An urgent desire to nurture swelled deep inside and colored the rest of my life in like colors, telling me to serve with all my being, even to the fowl of the air. I want to live as a stronghold, so content and assured in the face of death that the craving of life overpowers even the most hopeless situations.
Not that much deadly opportunity presents itself to me on a daily basis, but I see the results of an empathetic heart when I allow my emotions to assume control of me. Sparrows collapse everywhere I turn, every day, ripped asunder by the cruel manners of the natural world. But I strive to look beyond that instinct, to see to an end no matter how dreadful, to exist there in the place of broken sparrows. That I live for, I observe all around me. So many sparrows and so many broken lives.
I’ll fix them if I can, one timid bird at a time.
Because I believe in the will to fly.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.