Seven years ago this week I was on an island off the coast of New Zealand, walking twice a day up a small steep mountain to care for an abandoned endangered baby parrot in the wild. I talked to it, gave it water, and on the fifth day it ate its first solid food, a high-protein banana-fig-mash mix that I made fresh every day. Then it peed, pooped, and fell asleep. I never touched it, merely sat there falling in love with it. The little parrot couldn’t fly, and a few days later when a storm threatened its life, Jim and I went up the mountain, captured it in a towel, and gently carried it to the sheltered safety of an aviary we had helped build for a nature sanctuary. What I didn’t know then was that despite all our care, it would die anyway, stricken by a congenital brain disease that the vets at the Auckland Zoo would inform me of. I didn’t expect to so deeply mourn its loss. So many things are beyond our control, despite our best efforts.
My personal struggle now manifests itself in several ways. First, there is the mitochondria-deep dread of getting sick with a potentially horrendous outcome, and the queasy acceptance that yes, despite good health, my husband and I are in a high-risk age group. Then there’s the quiet worry that people we know and love might die, because this is Washington State and the virus’ spread wasn’t caught in time because there wasn’t enough testing. There’s the nagging fear of breathing the air at the grocery store. Then there’s the evaporating life savings, and concern for the economic fabric of my community. Finally, there has been a developing melancholy about the loss of my beloved in-person regular social contacts. Last week I felt despair settling in my bones due to obsessive consumption of news, and also some anger from reading far too many political arguments on too much social media. We’re all on edge; even before Coronavirus there was rising global authoritarianism, chest-thumping political recklessness, and misinformation.
So if you’re feeling down or scared, this essay, called Black-Out Nights, from 1939, may help a little. It sure helped me. Shared by a friend, it is about how, “…two days before the declaration of war, Britain imposed mandatory nightly black-outs to prevent enemy aircraft from identifying targets. The black-outs resulted in many people spending long, quiet hours at home once darkness fell.”
It describes kindnesses and positive attitudes that epitomize how I for one would like to spend time in this isolational black-out we are in. Maybe we can take heart from the kindnesses that are beginning to show up all around us, such as the local bookstore offering free home delivery, the local sandwich shop making free school lunches, and cafes offering curbside delivery. Or the wonderful example of a young woman who heard an elderly woman calling out and then shopped for groceries for that couple, who were in their 80s, because they were too scared to get out of their car and go into the grocery store. Or the fisherman on the dock who handed my husband a hunk of fresh salmon for our dinner–I could absolutely hug… no wait, elbow-thwack him. I love how my community, both on and offline, is finding the light in a dark situation. Like moonflowers, they’re blooming. Self-love finds time to not only give back, but to give thanks.
… or the viral video of the neighbors leaning out their windows singing together in Sienna
Oh yes, this! https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/13/europe/italian-neighbors-sing-scli-intl/index.html
Also… I know you understand nature and the reality that the parents abandoned a baby that was not viable. But, there was the chance that wasn’t the case and you stepped up and helped. Even though he died, I choose to believe that at some level he experienced your comforting actions. And even if not, I’m sure that you experienced good feelings from your gift of compassion. This is so utterly human and I’m sad that so many only experience this when crisis hits. Maybe the biggest positive that will come of this pandemic is that people will let their guards down and love each other. One can hope!
Thank you, Karen. That’s exactly what the veterinarians at the Auckland Zoo said – that the parents had abandoned it because they recognized it wasn’t a viable chick. But I didn’t know that, and by the way the little guy greeted me each time I visited, it was obvious that it at least appreciated the food and water. Later, it became obvious that he recognized me and had bonded to some degree; whenever I went inside the aviary, he would hobble over. The manifestation of his brain disease was lack of balance; he leaned as he walked and often stumbled. I tried hard to not allow him to become habituated to me so that he could eventually be released into the wild, but it was impossible, and I could not help becoming attached. When I learned of his diagnosis and the fact that they had euthanized him, I realized the attachment hadn’t been a mistake, that the little guy had had a relationship with at least one creature who fed, watered, and cared for him – that he wasn’t completely abandoned. I named him Sparky.
In a crisis like the one we’re in now, random acts of kindness tend to being tears to the eyes. That’s why I have hope that people all over the world might find better ways to connect and coexist. We really are all in this together.
The Jefferson County CERT has put out a call for volunteers to help with virus related needs. Unfortunately, being in a high-risk category precludes us from being active in certain circumstances. But I encourage any younger healthy folks reading this blog to think about helping.
Thank you Karen for a candle lit in what can feel like gathering darkness.
Simply astounding. Thank you.
Karen, that act of kindness totally sums up the person you have become. Sparky’s brief life was better because of you. Truly touching.