When I took out the trash this morning I noticed a bird sleeping on our front walk. Sleeping is not something birds typically do past 7am, there's a saying about it and all. When I stepped closer it looked like the bird was trying to nestle its head into its neck, then hop one step, then try to get comfy and nestle its head again.
"I think there's a bird dying at the bottom of our stairs," I said when I came in.
"Do you want me to do anything?" asked Dan.
"No, I just wanted to share."
The children came out on the porch to look at the bird. I told them they had to stay on the top step to give it some space, and they watched for a few minutes while the bird went through some death throughs. I said it's sometimes sad to see a bird die, but the bible says explicitly that not one bird will fall to the ground without God knowing. That means (I extrapolated for them) that God who created the bird is present with with the bird in its death. Then we prayed together asking God to take the bird to heaven.
After breakfast Harvey reflected a bit and came up with a rather mature statement:
"Sometimes I do, and sometimes I don't like watching a bird die."
I'd hate to say that I try to expose my children to death; what an awful ambition. But when death presents itself naturally in the world around us, I like to engage my children truthfully. I hope to teach them that death is a part of life, that it needn't always be sad or tragic. In the case of the bird, it was sad to watch it die, but it was beautiful too and a sacred moment to witness. So when Harvey said he sometimes did and sometimes didn't like watching the bird die, I could understand where he was coming from.
My sanguine approach to death only applies to very small animals, though.
Because some shit went down at Walden pond this afternoon that was no discovery channel infotainment.
We had headed to Walden pond to cool off. We just set down our beach blanket when a near-tragic event unfolded down the beach from us. A large man came running out of the water holding a limp child over his head. "Help, Help!" he yelled in the most commanding way a 200lb man can yell for help. A lifeguard came running into the water and grabbed the child from his arms. Another met her on the beach and several more followed. We could not see the boy from where we were sitting, but we saw a male lifeguards start chest compressions. Several lifeguards shouted at the same time to call 911.
I saw them lift a little blue arm and I saw it fall back down.
At this moment death did not seem like a beautiful sacred mystery. While I rubbed sunscreen on the same place on Zion's arm over and over again, I was commanding all heaven to move in favor of this child. Breath come now in Jesus' name. Lungs work now in Jesus' name. Heart beat now in Jesus' name. On earth as it is in heaven.
What I did not see but what a friend sitting close by told me later was that the boy spit up some water and let out a cry. The news reports say that he was breathing and conscious by the time they put him in the ambulance, but when I saw a large man carry him into the truck he did not look that responsive from my angle. He looked absolutely blue and motionless, so much so that Dan and I exchanged worried looks. But then I heard a ranger say over the radio that he was breathing. The blueness could have been due to his extra-light skin color too; his hair was absolutely white.
Throughout the rescue the rest of us on the beach sat silently. We looked like seagulls in a storm, heads all pointed in the same direction. The professionals on the scene, lifeguards followed by EMTs, all performed their duties with expert speed and determination. There were no sobbing parents to heighten the drama. The boy was part of a camp group who had left for a hike around the lake, presumably without counting heads.
The good news is that the boy is okay, though it is a very bad day for some camp director. And probably for a mother who got a terrifying call at work.
I don't have anything profound to add, and it's probably insensitive of me to start my little bit of eye-witness reporting with that story of a dead bird. It's only that they happened in the same day, I feel compelled (perhaps wrongly) to draw some connection, that God can be totally present in both death and resurrection.
Though for each today I was only a lame bystander, now with less assurance of how to make it all "make sense" for my children.