I don’t know about you, but I pretty much hate watching commercials about animal shelters. You know, the ones with Sarah McLaughlin singing in the background about angels while they show all the puppies in the worst state of existence? I cringe every time, and it’s not because I need to change my estrogen patch. No, it’s because for an entire year, I had to console my then four-year-old daughter who, upon seeing these commercials would bawl, throw herself on the floor and beg me to do something to right all the wrongs. Trust me, I tried to change the channel every time one would come on before her little eyes welled up with tears, but the minute I would touch the remote, her inner demon would come through, her neck would spin around, and she would demand I not “touch it”. So, there we would sit for the next ninety seconds, watching dogs with sad faces struggling through life. It was clearly the highlight of my day. I finally decided to make a donation to one of the organizations in her name for her birthday thinking that if she felt like she was doing something about the problem, she would feel better the next time the tragedy came on the television.
Incidentally, it worked, at least for that, but she’s always had a soft spot in her heart for every mammal, fish, bird, insect or otherwise. She even adopted a cat once. Well, wait, we’ve had three illegally smuggled in cats, but the one I’m referring to was when she was she was still about four and found a rag doll cat in the neighborhood that she decided should live in the garage. She fed it and watered it and don’t worry, in the summer, she lathered it in sunscreen so it wouldn’t get burned.
Anyway, one particular spring day, she decided to help her dad out in the yard. You know, cleaning up from the long winter, raking up any left-over leaves, fertilizing the lawn – all the stuff you do to get ready for the next season. I was inside doing whatever it was I was doing, probably blaring music and cleaning up somebody else’s mess.
She startled me when she came running into the house screaming, her words muffled by her tears. I didn’t know what happened, but I knew something was wrong. I ran to her, picked her up and she buried her head into my neck sobbing.
“What? What is it?” I pushed her hair back from her eyes, and tried to peel her off of me to see her face. “What’s wrong?”
“Daddy. The bird.”
“What bird?” She couldn’t catch her breath. “What bird, baby?” I thought about it for a minute. What is she talking about? Do we have a bird? When did we get a bird? Why do we have a bird? Please don’t tell me we have a bird.
“Outside.” She pointed to the open front door.
I put her down and grabbed her hand. “Okay, let’s go look.”
She was hesitant and still sniffling, but tiptoed out to the porch clutching my hand. The first thing I noticed was all the color drained from my husband’s face, white as a ghost while he stood next to a ladder on the front porch, holding something in his hand.
“What’s going on out here?” I asked, still confused.
He held up the object in his hand, which to me, looked like a pile of dirt. I looked down at my weeping child, who now was holding onto my leg with her hand to her mouth, trying not to cry while watching him. I looked back at my husband, shrugged my shoulders, opened my eyes wide, shook my head and silently plead for an answer.
“I was just cleaning up the swallow’s nest that was over the window.” He gave a half smile.
More wailing from the child attached to my leg. “There are babies! He killed the babies!”
The look on my face turned from confusion to horror. “What?” I snapped my head back towards him. With my eyes as big as sand dollars, I mouthed the words, “you-killed-the-babies?”
“Okay, there are not any babies. There are eggs”, he interjected. “How was I supposed to know there were going to be eggs in there when I took it down?”
“Well, it’s a nest?” I might have been a touch sarcastic.
“It wasn’t there yesterday.”
“Mommy”, she tugged on my pants. “Where is the mommy bird? Won’t she be sad when she comes back and her babies are gone?”
I glared at my husband, this time squinting my eyes, crossing my arms, and slowly moving my head from side to side. “Well, Daddy, won’t she?” I half demanded an answer and half wanted him to fall to his knees begging for forgiveness. I took her hand in mine again and led her back into the house to explain. As we crossed into the foyer, I heard him say, “you know these nests are health hazards.”
I slammed the door.
I spent the next hour holding my daughter rocking her until she fell asleep, wiping her tears and explaining the cycle of life silently cussing Chad out in my head in between my thoughts. I even considered telling her we would run right down to the pet store and buy a bird but then I decided I wasn’t stupid. After all, maybe she could just find one in a tree somewhere and it could live there.
It wasn’t until she woke up an hour later that she decided to revisit the scene of the crime, and I watched her as she sadly strode to the door and out onto the porch. As soon as she stepped out, she flew back in, this time screaming, “the mommy bird is back, the mommy bird is back!”
I was sure I would walk out there and see a bird so pissed off that her babies were gone that it was either flapping around in mid-air angrily looking for them or possibly dive bombing my husband trying to stab him in the eyes. I couldn’t handle any more. I didn’t want to go see. But she insisted and pulled me out to look.
I instantly saw it, and I cried. She smiled. She smiled the biggest smile I have ever seen. The nest was back. The eggs were safe, and the mommy was perched right up on the ledge.
My husband didn’t want that nest there. He didn’t want birds living on our porch. He didn’t want to clean up the mess. But, when he saw his little girl’s heart breaking, he did the only thing he could think of to make it right. He fixed it. Because, that’s what good men do.
I miss him. I miss him so much. He died when she was thirteen. And as much as I know how badly he wanted to stay, he couldn’t fix that, no matter how hard he tried. But, he left us with an understanding. An understanding of what good is, what good people do, and what selflessness looks like. And, when things get really hard without him, I look back on this memory and remember that nothing is truly broken forever. Nothing can’t be patched back up, not a fallen bird’s nest or even a broken heart. So, if you are struggling at all today, please remember that. Please remember that somehow, some way, things are going to get better, even if it’s not the same. I promise.