Behold The Fowls of The Air
If your family members are suffering the tragic loss via dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, memory loss, or early onset alzheimer’s, this story may hit home.
Often I’m confused by the selection of specific phrases from books, like my title. It takes the appearance of some often told lesson that, in reality, was probably meant for another time and place. I am quite taken with the title though – because on the day this little bird ended up in my hand it made perfect sense.
I had to make an impromptu trip to see my parents, and at this particular time, it was just ever-so-slightly stressful due to work-related nonsense. Even still, it’s essential to spend as much time with my parents as I would want my own, my son, to honor me. Makes perfect sense, right? The entire time I was there my mind was grappling with the thoughts of the future. It was insisting that I foretell what was coming so that it could prepare adequately. At some point in the conversation with my father, I suddenly realized that everything I thought I understood and knew about my relationship with my parents was, well, clueless. Maybe I’m using “clueless” inappropriately.
My father suffers from Alzheimer’s so you understand that moments, where he is sharing, are vital to me and have a profound impact.
Dad provided for four children, including me, and also is husband to our mother for over 50 years. When we realized this devilish disease started taking root in our family it was a nasty blow. A man, once like myself, who dove into information like it was ice cream on a hot summers day, was suddenly a different presence. Soft and malleable, no longer edgy and mysterious. It’s moments when you watch your loved one, once so powerful and forceful, laid bare by something you can’t navigate, that you struggle with the history that once created this family unit. You are focused on the points of what’s been lost, and now, in a few moments of time, memory and clarity of memories, this man, who you now have to relearn, is sharing. And maybe, just maybe, the cover of all that edge and mysterious power that’s been protecting something are now ripped back to lay him bare. But of course, it’s you who will be bare. Frozen. Silently suffering for the knowledge you just received but grateful like a starving child who is given salted and bitter meats.
What he shared isn’t as important as the realization that I’d waited years to coax mysteries out of my parents and here some were, glaring at me. Laughing. I still accepted it though. I cried bitter tears for the knowledge and then sweet tears for want of it.
Which brings me to a little bird. After my few hours of togetherness, some tears too, I had to leave and was heavy with this burden that had been shared. Brokered to me because a person who once controlled the world around him has been struck by an awful foe who now owns him. Heavily laden with confusing and misunderstood histories and then of what was to come bore heavy on my shoulders as I walked to the car. I kept imagining Dad’s brain – misfiring in the night by a demon who thought it better to remember now than to never at all, wondering where the purpose of it all was. My parents followed me out – along with my older brother. As we stood and started saying our goodbyes, I caught movement in the corner of my eye, and it was my Mother’s cat, about 20 feet away, with her head sticking out of the hedges and a tiny bird in her mouth. The bird struggled against fate. For a moment I thought, “Yes, that’s exactly how life is; isn’t it. That is exactly I feel. Right now”. Mom quickly turned and walked defiantly toward the cat after, over her shoulder, I said it was too late, the cat would surely not give up its prey. Mom uses a cane, but even still she wouldn’t give up. She went over to her cat, who had darted away from me, and pried the tiny bird from the cat’s death bite. Mom knows diligence very well, sharp teeth biting down is the easy stuff.
She had the bird in her hands and came to show us. The bird was laying on its side barely moving, eyes wide in a death stare caught in the memory of those sharp teeth. I said the bird was probably punctured or something internally broken while looking at the little bird’s tiny feet curled up as if birds fists were possible. I finally took the bird into my hand and told Mom that I would just take the bird with me because there was no point in my parents suffering a little seemingly dead bird. I didn’t say that last part, they just assume I can bring small birds back to life miraculously. As a child, I thought my parents were magicians, and now, as an adult, they believe I can work miracles. Mom went to get a box. I stared at the bird in my hand, its little body slightly heaving and then there was a flutter. I stared at the bird thinking I’d have a dead bird in my car on the drive back. Quiet, no music or audible books because in this sour mood all I wanted to do was just, nothing, and drive. Just me and this tiny dead bird until I could finally stop and deposit it in the ground. I’d probably tamp the earth gently so as not to crush it like the sour and melancholic mood that swirled around me.
Mom returned with a box but when she did the little bird fluttered again, and its wings flapped. It got so excited that it jumped on my shoulder. I didn’t move a muscle. I assumed the bird would fall to the ground and hurt itself even more. The bird stood on my shoulder in shock but it was obvious the cat claw memory was fading. I slowly brought my hand back around and cradled the bird once more. It rested a little longer, and I took it to a tree then held it in front of a branch so it would have something to hold on to. It looked at me, paused to take in the day and just stood there on my palm. I looked back over at my Dad; he was leaning on my car. My Dad loves cars. He’s never had many of them, but he likes to look at vehicles and judge them, this one is bad, this one is good, that’s a good deal on that car. We have memories tied to cars. In a nomadic life, cars are the homestead. He bought my first one, and he loved the one he was leaning on-I could tell he liked it. I felt a sense of pride that in his weakness he still believes in me. 100%. He looked like Dad standing there waiting for me with his cap on his head. He seemed so much smaller to me now.
I looked back at the tiny bird. He was still but very much alive and looking right at me. I decided to capture the moment because it seemed odd that a wild bird would just stand there staring at me–never-mind how changed I felt after this visit. I finally smiled at him. After his five minutes of fame, he hopped from my hand to the branch, and we shared another moment of silence. I realized that that little bird didn’t care one thing about the near-death experience he may have just experienced. That when he woke this morning, he wasn’t worried about a cat that would have eventually batted him out of the air while gathering his morning seed. He was just the wiser now, and it was time to continue flying, gathering, and experiencing the joy of the simplicity of his work. When I finally left, Dad didn’t have to struggle to capture a moment in words. What was once years of mystery was a faraway look in a pair of eyes that told me to acknowledge the bird’s lesson. For once be okay with simple phrases pulled from confusing volumes and recognize that even as the little bird never considered he’d be in the grip of death today he still went about his work. I too should not grovel in worry fraught with circumstance. I couldn’t change the reality of Dad’s disease any more than I could have stopped the cat from attack. I realize, all at once, my destiny is as it should be.