To Iris…

Today I watched you fascinated with death.

This is not an easy subject to talk about, and was not at the time, but I feel I must write down for you what I really wanted you to remember.

Today you returned from school, and in the dirt pit you carefully dug next to the driveway as a home for your woodlice “rolly polly” friends, was a dying house finch chick. A blind, helpless, struggling, limp, featherless chick. An animal, a bird yes and not a mammal, but still a living, bleeding, feeling, lost infant. Lost in the hopelessness of its situation. You asked me if there was a way we could help it, and I looked around and knew of no nest that it could have come from. I was being honest: you know I would have taken it back to its nest if I knew where that nest was. I could even hear what I thought was the sibling of that chick calling out in a nest nearby, but there were so many nests nearby… it would have taken me a half hour to find one and then it may not have been the right one.

I asked you to leave it to die. I asked. And yet, you went inside and then asked to go back outside. And where did you go, but back to the chick. And you sat, for minutes, and watched it flail about in the pit. I watched you watch it point its beak to the sky for food, voiceless. I watched you watch it blindly try to amble its body so that it could move somewhere, anywhere, closer to home, safety. After a few minutes I repeated and said you should leave it to die. And you left. A half hour later, I was back outside to water plants, and it was on its back, twitching as the final bonds with our plane of existence were being severed… dead.

I want you to understand why I asked you to leave.

Not that I could have explained it better, or even can explain that better until one day you have to deal with someone else’s mortality. I want you to understand why I let you watch it die even for more than a few seconds. I want you to understand the importance of life.

Sometimes all of us struggle. All of us encounter some kind of hardship. But every once in a while, one of us encounters something insurmountable. Something we try to convince ourselves is not a big deal at first, in then end, kills us. This is tragic enough. But sometimes it is much worse. We are the observers of this process, and memories survive past the event. We watch a being presented with a path that leads to their ultimate destruction. We wonder if it could have been us. If somehow we could be the chick in the pit. Blind. Naked.

At some point you will be the observer of me being the chick, and some day you will be the chick. Hopefully in that order, but in the end we all end up there. Just a few weeks ago your grandfather was the observer. He played cards with your great-grandmother, fully convinced that something was not right but still he left her happy with her memories and picture of the now. She died hours later. You met her. You know she was real, breathing, kinda creepy but definitely not fake. Now you think you understand mortality because you know she is dead, because you think you watched something die. But today you definitely watched something die, assured that there was nothing to be done. You may realize that in the morning when you see either no chick or its lifeless body in the pit. Or it may be later. But you will.

I am here to tell you this:

We have to approach life knowing that sometimes the death of the chick is assured. That death can be the most personal thing any being has control of in their lives. Or, sadly, the first and last chance they get to have control of any aspect of their lives (as with the chick). Lots of people will tell you that you have one life to live. Often this is because they want to get into your pants. I want to tell you something else though:

Each of us gets one death, live life accordingly.


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