– A TRUE STORY WITH PHOTOS –
If you’re over the age of 12, and happen to be feeling in the mood for a sad story with a happy ending, I humbly ask that you read this in a calm and sacred place of your own.
The power of this true story comes from living and writing without the need for apology or exception, leaving the next moment pure and open to new experiences.
A SPARROW NAMED “RAINA”
Magic appears in an instant, regardless of time or place. One day early in the morning, I park my car, Chateau, under a sycamore tree at a busy city park. Its trunk is fourteen feet in circumference at waist height, also known as a London planetree. (Per Wikipedia, in 1968 and 1970, Frank S. Santamour Jr. recreated the P. orientalis of Turkish origin with American sycamores.) This sycamore is sacred to me because I have witnessed many events next to it. I am well nestled in between its canopy-like branches overhead and long roots stretching across the street beneath my car. I can park close enough to rest my bare feet over the face of its trunk through the passenger window and take a nap.
One magical event takes place upon my waking up from a romantic dream under its branches. I notice the fresh rain has mixed with pollen from the tree, creating a sticky residue covering my car.
Just then, a friend of mine who knows of my love for animals rushes over to tell me there is a baby bird under the tree.
The bird is a sparrow. She looks exhausted and her parents are nowhere in sight. She is having a hard time keeping her eyes open and the frequency of her chirps is lessening. Predators are lurking. She has minutes to live. As I kneel to pick her up, to my surprise, she grants me the privilege of helping her.
The branches are too high for me to return her up the tree, and I wish I had a ladder. For her protection, I sanitize my microfiber cloth with alcohol which I use to polish my reading glasses, spread it on the driver’s seat and sit her on it. As she rests safely, I consider what to do.
I once read that, in rural places, some people use coconut water as an intravenous solution for hydration. I already have some in my Chateau for emergencies, amongst other practical food, bottles of frozen water, clothing, tools and medical supplies; I offer some coconut water with an eyedropper. She likes it, and she asks for more. Next, I make a paste from mashed bird seed, much like her mother’s regurgitated food, and add a touch of nutritional yeast. She gobbles it up. A few drops of witch hazel in water makes an excellent solution for a sponge bath using a Q-tip. She fluffs up her feathers and raises her wings for me to wipe her wing-pits. Her distinctive chirps express different feelings. My favorite are the sounds of contentment that confirm I am doing a good job as a caregiver.
As we grow intimate through closeness, the intelligence of Nature comes into play. She chirps for food every fifteen minutes. An hour later, as she looks stronger, we go back to the tree and I respectfully place her on the ground. She climbs back into my hand. “Perhaps she just needs a good rest,” I further justify. I am concerned about violating an Oregon State Law prohibiting people from contacting wildlife, but since she chose to stay with me, I decide to follow my heart.
I name her “Raina.” The last letter makes the name feminine, like “Dimitra,” which reminds me of the name of a petite Native American lady I had fallen for. Raina does not need a cage as she spends most of her time on my body during her healing, even while driving with the windows rolled down. When the weather is hot, I mist her with water as I do with the doves.
For her care, we need supplies. There is shopping to do: an open-top straw basket, a variety of seeds, almond butter, coconut powder, bananas, avocado, baby food, baby-wipes and paper towels. The whole endeavor costs less than twenty dollars. I express gratitude for such abundance and feel as fortunate as a millionaire for this blessing.
A pet shop owner suggests mealworms, which come in a soft container of one hundred count at four cents each. I have never seen mealworms before. Through a magnifying glass they look beautiful, though I am not sure if Raina wants them. I wiggle one of the smallest worms in front of her beak. She turns away. I am glad that the mealworms don’t have to be sacrificed.
When I am playing with them, the container falls and they all disappear into the tall grass layered over moist ground. In closeness to my tiny friends, I notice their behavior is similar to ours. They exhibit panic as they run for their lives looking for places to hide. Amongst them, there are confused young ones who do not know where to turn, the strong adults who dig the dirt out like bulldozers, and the wise elders who lead the way.
Raina chooses from the variety of food. I observe her selections as her preference is subject to change. She likes ripe bananas the most, and her droppings confirm a good diet.
At another pet shop, an employee is concerned that I may be altering the course of nature by helping Raina. I respond, “Have we not already altered nature with our industrial revolution? The animals are forced into others’ territories and they get run over by machines.”
For a moment, I have flashbacks: Two squirrels were hit by a car, their bodies still warm when I picked them up. There was the crow who fell into a construction ditch, a goose who was tangled up in fishing lines, a hummingbird who broke her neck on an invisible pane of glass, and a possum who was beaten to death with a shovel. I feel helpless. Moments later, “Please, God,” I implore, “… don’t let my presence in you become corrupt by our conditioned human minds.”
“Besides,” I ask the employee, “Why is it okay to transport exotic animals into cities, subjecting them to contamination and mistreatment in our homes, yet, not okay to help a baby bird that is about to die?”
He asks, “Is Raina native?”, referring to another state law that excludes the protection of non-natives. “But who is native?” I exclaim with a smile. I notice customers look at me and at one another in silence. “Is it fair to limit the lives of non-natives?” I further inquire. “What is our understanding of the time required to become native? Are perceptions of nativity subject to change?”
The employee nods his head validating my feelings, yet keeps his eyes on the floor with a look of helplessness. He must make a living; I acknowledge this, at least temporarily we are stuck in jobs which no longer support our expanding consciousness.
Am I making a mistake by extending Raina’s life? A friend thinks so; although he enjoys watching animal rescue shows on television and still appreciates the story of Raina.
Regularly feeding wildlife can be harmful, as they may become dependent upon us. I sanitize my hands with witch hazel before handling food. They will eat out of my hand if I allow, but it is safer for them to maintain a cautious distance. Not every human is kind. Provided there is a diverse population of animals who feed on seed, spreading bird seed over a large area allows everyone to eat. Yet, no animal overeats. The area should be clear of harmful objects: broken glass, plastic bags, fishing lines and hooks. Soft ground is easier on their feet and beaks. If the day is hot and dry, soaking food in water prevents them from choking, as dry food does not expand in their stomachs. When we offer good food to the animals in our environment, including ants and rats, it is less likely for them to eat junk food and poison.
These creatures who eat poison may be consumed by the ones we love: cats, dogs, crows, hawks, owls, eagles, reptiles, frogs, slugs, plants, and eventually our children; via contamination in our homes and gardens. A pound of flax seeds costs less than a pound of bread. Peanuts in the shell can be buried by some animals for later use. Bulk bird seed is fifty cents a pound. Maintaining our love for animals in supermarkets helps us to remember what to buy. Some animals are injured, or sick, while some are preparing to die.
Offering these gestures of kindness is an apology on behalf of humankind. Caring for them is a small price to pay considering how they expand our awareness through observation with a quiet mind.
As a child, unaware of my actions, I harmed innocent animals and my environment. My connection to other sentient beings was fading away. There was the biology class where I had crucified a little frog to impress my classmates, a dove who I had shot down with a large stone in flight to polish my skills, and a framed butterfly collection, designed to remind me of the beauty that was vanishing out of my life. Decades later, with the help of my animal friends who managed to nest in a sacred corner of my heart, I now understand the reason beneath my responses: the suffering I inflicted on others was my own cry for help. It wasn’t because I lacked compassion to feel; rather, I delayed feeling compassion. I ran away from home to find the space I needed to understand the cause of my suffering to stop hurting others. Three questions come to mind: What changed in me to stop the killing? How did this thought process begin in the first place? What remains the same throughout all my experience? Maybe the answers can be found as discoveries unfold, as in science, or in a person’s lifelong quest for one’s true self.
To keep Raina warm and prevent injury, I place her into an open glass bowl, cushioned with a towel and keep her enveloped in my body warmth at night. I too am exhausted. She sleeps like a baby.
The next day we wake up together early in the morning. She continues chirping and I listen. We spend two hours by the tree waiting for her parents.
In the meantime, I pick up trash from my environment and make offerings to the other animals. I sense that the neighbors lined up in clustered homes across the park have grown to like me. Often, I am surprised by the availability of the parking space under my sacred tree as if they are going out of their way to park somewhere else.
Raina cannot fly, so I decided to train her and then allow her go back to her tree. In the past, I once trained a baby dove by moving my arms gently up and down while she sat in my open hands. The dove’s name was Angel; she spent three months of her life with me, mostly on my left shoulder.
Raina and I share a wonderful time throughout the day until she flies and lands on a tree branch about fifteen feet high where she cries out for hours.
As I anxiously look for ways to climb up and rescue her, in case she cannot get down, I happen to notice she is in the exact same place where in horror I have witnessed a scrub jay slaying a baby sparrow last year. The jay was claiming the territory for her own babies.
As darkness falls, still no parents, she flies down and lands in my open hands. The air is chilling. I gently tuck her under my sweater, lean back in the passenger seat, and close my eyes. Around midnight, she slowly climbs up from my belly to the top of my heart and morphs herself to the size of a cotton-ball. Soon after this, she falls into a deep sleep and peacefully passes on. Possibly we will meet again.
A common thing I notice with other animals who died near my heart is that they did not struggle. Dying in the presence of love seems painless when the moment is right.
I do not know where to bury the body she leaves behind. I wish it would dissolve into my chest in that moment. Feeling torn apart, and somewhat delusional, I wrap it in a cocoon with the fiber cloth to wear as a necklace. If people ask, I plan on telling them I am drying sacred herbs. I feel shame from concealing the truth by hiding her body. I make sure it is tucked under my sweater. Luckily no one says anything. I am grateful. The microfiber cloth is perfect; plenty of warm air circulates throughout.
Her body dries overnight like a cut flower.
I think, “If I too leave this life tonight, it can be for a good purpose. The paramedics would find a deceased man with a dead bird on his chest. The reporters will show up. They’ll say, ‘There is no need for investigation; he died from heartache.’ Afterwards, the unfinished story of Raina may be loved by many. It could touch the hearts of everyone, helping them reach new levels of awareness.”
The next morning, I am wide awake and awfully alive. There are times when I lay down wishing to kill the memory cells in my body that harbor pain, but not this time, not for Raina.
I accept my sadness as a reflection of our mysterious nature. Time after time, it has been confirmed to me that denial of this awareness obscures our true nature and causes more misery. On the other hand, in surrendering, the rewards transcend the capacities of my mind. Thus, I say, “Welcome, Love. Enter any way you like. No need to wait for even a second. The heart has the capacity to break a million times more and still find love.”
Seven days go by. I decide that the place under the sacred tree is not suitable for burial. I go to work, where I notice a budding flower, Campanula in a nursery pot by the post of the Japanese gate waiting to be planted. The gate is called a Shinto, which I had built last summer. The stairs lead to my employer’s office of natural healing: good medicines and passionate doctors.
By the post, I dig a hole about seven inches deep and lay her down in the microfiber cloth, planting the flower above her body. I pray she will soar with a message from this world in response of our cruelty to Mother Earth: “No need for apocalypse… There is still good in humans,” regardless of the flaws in our laws and scattered pet shop experiences.
I feel that our experiences are neither the end nor the beginning, but a play in moment among gods and spirits. Following the wisdom of spirit seems to be beneficial, thus my pride is willing to cooperate. I recall the message on the blackboard in a public restroom, which read, “The magic is real.” Then someone wrote, “No it is not,” next to it. Now it reads, “You are real.” No one has argued with that.
Since departing, Raina left me gifts. There is the discovery, in serving Love, becoming a warrior is effortless, especially when the purpose is to help. “Unlimited Internet, talk and text, thirty dollars a month” signs pop up on billboards. I figure out how to use the speech-to-text software on my phone by the sacred tree and save it in Gmail, ready for printing anywhere. I have to pronounce each word clearly from start to end, and pause a whole second in between the words, or text errors will occur. I begin to sound like Mr. Sean Connery, one of my heroes. The intensity of Raina’s beauty helps me break through my stagnant shell; l grab total strangers from the streets and coffee shops for their opinions. Raina improves my communication skills by making me a good listener. I use my words carefully to better express my feelings. People help me dig deeper in myself for further investigation, which helps them too. In sharing this story with all walks of life, may we experience many sacred moments.
Best of all, during Raina’s presence within me, I notice that love cannot be fragmented; the missed opportunities to forgive and be forgiven can reappear for resolution at any time, in any form, regardless of how distant they may seem. It is everyone’s birthright to love and to be loved, including those who have broken hearts.
As a bonus, during the final stages of this writing, my mother calls me out of the blue from Turkey. It’s been sixteen years since we saw each other. I tell her about the story of Raina. She says she would be glad to have it translated to Turkish if I send her a copy. “Why don’t you come to visit?” she asks. Besides being poor, I tell her about my gray hair which may make her look older when next to me, and I can no longer dye it due to a medical condition on my scalp. She is a beautician and looks 20 years younger than she is.
I know that my mother did not have much choice in marrying to a man she did not love at the age of sixteen. Next thing you know she is giving birth to a large headed boy through a caesarian section. My father did not have the freedom to explore multiple dates until mature enough to discover what he really wanted. I don’t blame them. Nor do I question the omens in the creation of myself and the ones in my life. Presence of Love remains pure, even when filtered through my thoughts.
“Come as you are, son,” says my mother. “I love you.” After a moment’s pause, “I love you too, mother” I respond. I feel our sincerity. The next time we talk, I will tell her, “If you want, ma, I would be proud to tell everyone you are my beautiful loving sister.” We say “farewell” and hang up. Images of sweet childhood memories surface throughout the day and night.
How can I assign a beginning or an end to a special event? The moments leading here have been taking place since the beginning of time and the effects will ripple indefinitely.
However, this story ends the next morning. Hoping that the parking space under my sacred tree is available, I turn the corner, and there it is, waiting for me. My five-year quest to come up with a name for this sacred tree is resolved when I overhear a couple of ladies on their morning walk, commenting, “It’s a gnarly thing, isn’t it?” Gnarly’s features display faces of wise souls and the curves belonging to wild imaginations. The scales and hairy maple-like leaves have evolved to shed pollution. Pollen from Gnarly can be allergenic to some, or healing to others.
Many magical events I have witnessed here, embraced by Gnarly and my Chateau. Today, a man sits up from his sleeping bag, clapping his hands in the air and telling the crows, “Shut up! I want to go back to sleep!” A crow, a scrub jay and a squirrel come over for peanuts, as they usually do.
On the driver’s seat, a cat named, Goldy, short for Golden Boy, grooms himself continuously. Surprisingly, he looks just like the kitten who had fallen into the well in our backyard when I was a boy. I had fished him out of the water with a basket tied at the end of a rope, still alive, and tried mouth to mouth resuscitation, but failed. Memories of his trembling lips touching mine never left my heart. When Goldy purrs, he chokes on his own saliva, making the sounds of drowning. “You don’t have to purr so hard,” I told him. He will do anything I ask, except lie on his back. He likes being kissed on the face. Our healing runs parallel to one another. He came out of nowhere looking like a transient in search of his destiny, but that’s a story for another time.
Fifty feet to the right of my Chateau, tents and tables unfold for a company picnic.
People with dogs stroll, and a Harley Davidson roars by.
Thirty feet above, the woodpecker sticks her head out of the nest to see the commotion.
A child asks me for directions; he says, “I am from out of town,”
and a line from the song “Jack and Diane” by John Mellencamp lingers in my head:
“… oh yeah, life goes on …”
Thank you for sharing
My higher self, my gut-feeling, instantly knows the best answer and the reaction during my tests and trials.
Such Sense is deeper than any conditioning I may have.
When I’m with you, Love, I’m a child again
And I’m back to the times when I didn’t have any concepts and requests.
Now, beyond doubt, I surrender to your beauty.
And as I do so, I remember the reason I’m here is because of a promise I made long ago
Before my existence, in a dream
That you are the emotion I would choose to live.
* * *
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