I was on my laptop, ordering equipment for the lab, when Lynne came in with a small cardboard box with holes poked in the lid. “What have you there?” I asked, nodding toward the box, hoping it was not a snake. I’d always had a bit of a fear of them, though I was not quick to admit to that.
She sat down next to me. “My patient.” She lifted the lid so that I could see what was inside. Huddled in one corner of the box was a tiny bird with one wing askew. “He’s injured his wing,” she explained.
I looked up at her. “What are you going to do, put a splint on it?” I asked, amused.
“Hardly. I just have to keep him quiet and make sure he gets enough nourishment until he heals. Then I send him on his way.”
“And how will you know when he’s well enough to be set free?” I asked.
“I won’t. But he will.” She placed the box on the table in front of me.
I studied the tiny creature for a long moment. It brought back a sudden rush of memories from the distant past, of all the injured creatures my mum and I tended when I was a wee lad. “They’re God’s creatures, just as we are,” she would tell me. “We are responsible for them. We must take care of them. We have been given stewardship over all the creatures of the earth.”
“Then why do we eat them, Mummy?” I asked. It didn’t make sense.
She smiled patiently. “We’re allowed to kill only for food,” she explained. “One day you will understand. But you—you have a gift, and a responsibility to use that gift to make this world a better place.”
“What gift, Mummy?” I wanted to know.
“You’re a healer,” she told me, extending her hand to me. She was holding a bird that had crashed into our kitchen window. It looked to be near death.
“He’s dying,” I remembered saying. The pitiful creature was barely breathing. My heart broke for it.
She shook her head. “He’s hurt, but he’s still alive. You can heal him.”
“But how?” I didn’t understand. “What can I do?”
“Touch him. Stroke him,” she instructed.
I did as she said. I always obeyed my mum without question. I stroked the bird’s tiny body with my fingers, and almost immediately, its wings started to flutter. Mum released her hold on it, and it flew away as if it had never been injured.
“If I can heal animals and birds, Mummy, why can I not heal you?” I asked.
She looked surprised. “Why would I need healing?” she asked.
“You’re hurting,” I observed solemnly. “I can see it in your eyes.”
She hesitated. “There are different kinds of hurting,” she tried to explain. “Some hurts only God himself can heal.”
“Why doesn’t he, then?” I challenged.
“In his time, he will,” she assured me. “There are things we must accept without question.” She hugged me tightly.
But there were things I had never been able to accept….
I was up early the next morning, working on my laptop again. Almost as an afterthought, I decided to check on the bird. I lifted the lid on the box slowly, trying not to startle it or allow it to escape. Not that it could, weak as it was.
It wasn’t moving. It lay on one side, its tiny legs stiff. It was dead, or so I thought. I decided to dispose of it, but when I reached down to pick it up, it jerked as if startled and hopped to its feet, its feathers ruffled. It looked up at me, as surprised as I was.
“Little bugger,” I growled. “You sure as hell looked dead.”
“That’s odd,” Lynne said, coming up behind me.
“What?” I asked, still baffled by what had just happened.
“The bird,” she said. “Last night, he wasn’t doing very well. I was starting to think he might not make it.”
“They may look fragile, but the little bastards are actually quite resilient,” I said with an offhanded shrug.
“I think he wants to go home,” Lynne said, observing the bird for a long moment. It looked up at her expectantly. She took the box and went over to the door. I followed, watching as she opened the door, then lifted the lid from the box. The bird didn’t move. It seemed to be waiting for instructions.
“Well, what are you waiting for?” I asked. “You’ve worn out your welcome. Go!”
The bird took off, flying confidently westward until they could no longer see it. I put an arm around Lynne. She didn’t push me away.
She turned to look at me. “Did you ever have a pet as a child?” she asked.
I thought about it. “When I was very young, I had many pets. All of them temporary,” I said. “Hungry strays, injured creatures. Mum had a soft heart.”
“I think I would have liked her,” Lynne said.
“My mum used to say animals had the ability to see evil. She said they could predict the weather, foresee disasters and see demon spirits.”
“They can,” Lynne said quietly.
“Any stray that came to our door was fed what crumbs we could manage, no matter how little we had,” I remembered. “The lost tend to stick together, it would seem.”