Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father — Matthew 10:29
I saw a death today...
Frankie and I are in Indianapolis this weekend. One of my dear girlfriends from high school is getting married, and she and her fiancée asked me to officiate. In addition, we're close enough to our one-year wedding anniversary that this is kind of a vacation for us. We're going to see Scott Alan in concert tomorrow night. We're staying with some friends on Saturday. All in all, I expected this weekend to be filled with nothing but pure joy.
Earlier this afternoon, after we got arrived at the hotel and got settled in, I went downstairs for a smoke. While outside, I heard this odd flapping noise. I looked up, and dangling from what looked like some sort of vent was a small bird. I really don't know what kind it was. I don't know whether it was male or female. All I knew was that it was trapped and probably in some sort of pain. My heart broke, my pulse spiked. I had to do something.
At first, I tried getting it to grab onto a twig with its good leg so that I could hoist it up. Instead it just nipped at the branch. I tried nudging it up with the stick. That didn't work. Ultimately, I ended up hoisting myself up the side of the wall just high enough to reach the creature with my hands and go to work pulling it out of the vent. As I worked, I felt the hope within me dissipate and fade.
...This bird was not going to make it
I was able to free the bird from the vent, and as I did so, I nearly vomited. The creature's leg was broken and mangled beyond repair. I knew there was nothing more I could do for it, not with the wound being so severe. I gently sat it atop the vent where its nest was, and as I descended from the wall, my stomach was tied in knots, tears welling up in my eyes. My hands were shaking, and my heart-felt as if it would pound its way out of my chest. The sadness I felt for this small being was more than even I expected. Some might call it melodramatic, but still. That's me.
We went out for dinner with my girlfriend and her soon to be husband tonight. Sporadically, I would think about the bird, wondering what it was experiencing at that very moment. When I arrived at the hotel a short while ago, I looked up on top of the vent. The bird was gone. Sadly, as I stepped away, I looked down and there it was, deceased. I don't know how it got from the vent to the ground several feet away. When I left it there, it seemed peaceful, almost resigned to what was coming. I looked at him, and he at me. Ge even gently nipped at my finger. He knew his fate, and so did I. I'd done what I could. The rest was up to fate, chance, the universe, or some other unforeseeable force.
There was nothing more I could have done...
Sitting here in the hotel room, I realize just how successful my seminary education has been. As I think about my encounter with the bird, I'm left pondering theological questions, one in particular: what does God think and feel when God looks at humanity and sees the wounds that have either been inflicted upon us, or that we have inflicted upon ourselves? When I realized that the bird was most likely going to die, I questioned whether to let it happen naturally, or to speed up the process, putting the poor thing out of its misery. Clearly I opted for the former, but the fact that the latter option entered my mind made me wonder if the same was the case for the Creator upon seeing just how mangled and broken we are at times.
In all honesty, I wonder if putting us out of our misery, of ending the pain, wouldn't be merciful
And then I recalled the verse mentioned at the beginning of this post. Actually, I thought of the passage in Matthew 6 where Jesus is telling his listeners to not worry, for if God pays attention to and provides for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field, then isn't God going to pay just as much attention to us and our needs. When I realized that passage didn't refer to a particular bird, I looked up "sparrow" and found the one above. Yes, I proof-texted. Forgive me.
I was not there to see the bird fall and ultimately die. God was. Maybe, just maybe, God had hopes for the bird as well. Hopes that the wound was not ultimately fatal. Hopes that healing would be possible. Hopes that life would continue. Maybe, just maybe, God holds onto the exact same hopes for us, for the human race. Maybe we experience the pain that we do, not because God is a tyrannical sadist, but because God doesn't want death to be the only option.
Sometimes death is merciful. I think back to Nanny and her accident. The doctors said that the impact killed her brain instantly. There was no pain, no suffering. In that instance, to keep her body alive would have been selfish. Death was an act of mercy, of letting go.
This is not always the case. I've always been taught, especially since I started seminary, that Yahweh is a God of life. Loves life. Gives life. Liberates life. Awakens life. Breathes life. Embraces life. Everything about God is living. As such, I can't fathom the notion that, for God, death is ever really the first option, much less the only one. God seeks life for all God's creation. Anything else would go against God's character, God's nature.
As sad as it was to see the body of the bird lying on the ground tonight, I found myself hoping that he was not in agony for long. I found myself wishing that his death had come quick and his suffering short-lived. And I found myself thankful that, while sometimes death is merciful, there is always hope for life.