The cats were staring fixedly at something underneath one of the Adirondack chairs on the porch. “There’s something under there,” I said to my husband, bending to look. To the left of the chair, near the front door I spied a thick pile of tiny feathers. Too many feathers to leave a bird healthy.
“It’s a bird,” he said, bending to look as I quickly stood up to avoid looking. “A robin.” He scooped up one of the cats; the other fled into the yard. I made myself look at the terrified creature on the sisal rug. It was twisted wrong, eyes open, rapid heart beat visible as it sat exposed and traumatized. He caught the other cat and put her in the house.
As a child, I would have insisted that we put the bird in a shoebox, feed it with an eyedropper and try to keep it alive. I don’t know whether I have become less hopeful or more realistic in my old age – probably some combination of the two. I knew that feeling of being trapped, stricken, heart racing, with a sickening wound. I could be saved with time, rest and love, but the robin would require medical attention that we could not afford. It seemed unlikely that there was any local organization that would rush out to rescue a common robin at 9:00 on a Sunday night.
“I don’t think it can fly,” I observed, looking away and blinking rapidly. “What’s going to happen to it?”
“I’ll catch it and move it,” he answered. “If it really can’t fly-“
“We have to kill it” I finished. I thought ridiculous, philosophical thoughts. I am not supposed to kill anything, and as a Buddhist I should probably just let it die or be eaten, as nature would have it. I knew perfectly well that I wasn’t going to be the one to kill it because I couldn’t. Rob would have to be the one to put it out of its misery while I avoided the whole thing. I knew it had to be killed; I could not forget its blank eye and the frantic beating of its tiny heart. The cats had been doing their job, we had interrupted, and I could not believe that there was any compassionate solution other than a swift, man-made death. I still wanted to save it.
Rob set it gently on the lawn and we watched it for a bit; I had made a half-assed plea for time based on my delusion that adrenaline would kick in and the broken creature would suddenly take flight. It sat, it hopped a bit; it clearly would have flown away had it been able. There was no miracle, St. Francis did not appear in his roughly woven robe to lift the broken thing and set it free from pain and danger. No one’s eye was on the sparrow that was the robin in our yard.
“So, what are you going to do?” I asked, knowing the answer.
“I’m going to have to hit it with a shovel. It’ll be fast. Then I’ll put it in a bag in the trash so the cats can’t get at it.” I nodded. I went into the house, taking a last look through the darkening air at the small shape that now huddled near the sidewalk. Inside, I sat at my computer, looking at things and not seeing them, until he came in. “It’s done” he said. “You know that wasn’t easy for me to do. It felt good that I could put it out of its misery so it wouldn’t suffer any more, but it still wasn’t easy.” I nodded, still staring at Facebook updates that might as well have been in Cyrillics.
“I know,” I said. “Thank you.”
No one had his eye on that robin.