DEAD BABIES

Two tiny forms lay before me, the life gone out of them. I felt guilty and ashamed, and wondered what Life trying to teach me?

Sad ghost faces appear in the ash after a wildfire. Photo by author, 2017

When the fledglings showed up on my front porch the next morning with all the life gone out of them, I knew somehow there would be a teaching for me coming. It seemed to be an omen, perhaps that Lil and I wouldn’t remain roommates, that our trial period together was fated to end soon. I felt despairing that the birds had died, and I felt partially responsible. There were two of them: my intuition named them as brothers, and I wondered half aloud whether they were blue jays or robins. It couldn’t have mattered much to them now, I reasoned, but I would still have liked to know.

They lay motionless, — fragile, innocent bodies huddled close together in the center of the transplanted nesting materials I’d placed in their cage turned coffin. Just the previous evening, I’d put them tentatively into the small hamster cage left behind by the previous owners of my new house. It was clean and new looking, with a sliding door. I had thought it might come in handy. When the baby birds fell out of their nest in my rose bushes, I needed something to put them in, and the cage seemed ideal.

Lil had been renting a room for about a week when she found the nesting babies that summer’s morning, all mouth and adamant cries for food. When they wre still bawling towards evening, Lil suggested we rescue them, surmising that their mother was not returning. I hesitated: should we disturb the nest? And if we touched the little ones, getting human scent on their feathers, could that be problematic for them? I’d heard somewhere that it might. Lil went indoors to track down a wildlife rescuing expert, leaving me to my debate. Suddenly, one of the baby birdies tumbled out of its home of twigs and leaves into the morass of ice plant below. It landed six inches from my feet in a sprawling, twisted position. Unable to find solid ground, the fledgling couldn’t negotiate an upright position or free its neck. My fear that it might strangle itself while I stood gaping made me overcome my anxiety about touching it. I quickly picked the youngster up into my hands. Seconds later, its sibling fell as well, landing at my feet, more or less right side up.

Lil emerged from the house with some info about what to do. She assigned me the task of finding a shoe box in which I was to put in some paper cuttings. Then we would make some food. Meanwhile, Lil and I were due to leave in a half hour for an evening’s event, picking up friends on the way. I had volunteered to drive. The pressure was on. The birds needed saving, I needed to get ready to go, and Lil was already disappearing to go get ready. I felt momentarily abandoned, remembering at least two other occasions when Lil began a project and I seemingly got left to complete it alone.

Temporarily, I placed the howling youngsters in a six inch empty planter. I dashed inside my house but couldn’t find an empty shoe box that I felt satisfied with. Hurrying into the garage, I plucked a large box, emptying its contents of books, and sped to our wards outside on the back patio. To my dismay, one of the babies had managed to climb to the top edge and was about to crash onto the pavement. Grabbing him, gently, I put him and his brother into the large box. Lil appeared at the door, informing me that the wildlife fellow said we should put the birdies into a small, dark container, so they’d feel safer.

I asked her to help by making the foodstuffs. We were told to boil some water and take some dog food and mash it together to make it digestible. Under no circumstances were there to be any lumps. Lumps could choke the babies.

Lil went into the kitchen, while I discovered the old hamster cage and placed the bird’s nest as best I could, into it, babies in the middle. That seemed decent. I went inside to see how Lil was coming along with the nourishment. She was washing, and noted that she wasn’t dressed yet and needed to go do that. So did I! What to do?! I took over the mashing, and then tried pouring the paste into a small dropper bottle. The stuff was too thick. The dropper wouldn’t release the food. The clock was ticking away. Frenetic, I hunted through my cupboards for the tiny, nippled, kiddie dolly bottle I thought I still had among my play gear. Finding it, I poked an ice pick hole in the top, but the food paste defied pouring. I fumbled with the opening for another minute or two. Then, frustrated, I opened the silverware drawer. Producing a small sugar spoon, I tried to push some of the food matter into one of the baby’s mouths through the wire mesh of the cage. Half of it stayed on the cage, a small bit going into my target. Both birds were clamoring for sustenance, more than half starved. I imagined how small, scared and helpless they were feeling, since I too, was feeling very vulnerable. Lil and I seemed questionably fit to be surrogate mothers.

What came next may have sealed the fate of the tiny ones. Having planned to leave a six p.m., it was now 5:54 and Lil asked why didn’t we take the babies next door to my neighbor’s kids? Wouldn’t they be willing, even excited, to babysit, feeding them every half hour as the wildlife expert had advised? I agreed to the plan, and we ran next door in a flurry of appointments to keep and hopes that our wards would fare just fine in the hands of the two sympathetic neighbor girls. One was seven, and her sister eleven years old. Leaving the spoon, bowl of somewhat lumpy mixture, the gummy dolly bottle and caged, squawking little ones, Lil and I went off for the evening.

The next morning came. The babies were dead. The dish of crusted, diluted dog food lay neatly nearby. I observed the birdies stoically, crouching down so I could see them better in the cage. “Dead issue,” came the words in my head. “Lack of follow through makes for dead issue. Dead babies.”
Thus had my Lesson begun to shape itself into my craw for further contemplation.In the immediate days and weeks that followed, I felt compelled to examine closely my commitments. I watched to see what choices I made, what prices they came with, what I did when things got sticky or encumbered, what I followed through with and what I discarded. My relationship with Lil was one of the discards. She moved out after the one month trial period, and I didn’t look back, except to note that our would-be friendship was yet one more thing started and soon finished: one more thing neither of us determined to stick with.

I’ve continued to pay close attention to the results I get. Inevitably, when I don’t get a desired or anticipated result, I find that I did not fully INTEND that result. That is, I did not fully commit. The lesson is so simple, yet endlessly profound: without the follow through to the desired end, I get dead babies, the babies being my ideas, my dreams, my projects.

I’ll never know whether those teeny, dear birdlings would’ve died regardless of our intervention. I’ll never know if they would have lived if I had just stayed home that night. I do know that they played a part in my Education, a priceless piece of wisdom delivered to me through their deaths: if I do not clarify my intent, commit and follow through, the life goes out of my projects, may starts don’t come to fruition.

I get dead babies.

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