Monday, 17 June 2013


Co-suffering, that’s what compassion means. Was that what I felt when, this weekend, I held in my hands a mourning dove and tried, with husband and son, to save it?

The bird had become entangled in our badminton net, which we’d taken down but not put away. The black net stood limp, almost invisible, hanging from a pole at the rear of the garden where birds flutter back and forth among the trees.

My son came running in to say a bird was caught in the net. My heart jumped. I cursed aloud. I so easily jump to anger, at myself, at the boys. Looking for someone to blame.

My husband reached the little bird first. I hesitated. I stood in the kitchen and deliberated. Could I care for this bird? Could I take this on? Would it hurt me too much? What if he died in front of me? Like my dog, who was hit by a car running to greet me when I was in grade two? I thought all this and then ran outside.

Scissors - I think it was my husband’s idea. I yelled to my son to get them. The sound of his heavy steps as he hurried down the deck stairs with the scissors frightened the bird. It panicked and tried to fly away but fell quickly to the ground.

Then my hands were on the bird quickly; no more thinking, just acting. The dove was soft and warm, and at my touch it grew still.

The net had twined itself around wings and legs so quickly and intricately that we could not loosen it. I started cutting away carefully, trying to loosen its strings. My husband was working too, delicately pulling at the net. I snipped and snipped, holding my breath, holding the bird.

And it held onto me. One tiny claw wrapped itself around my thumb. “He's holding me,” I said. My son watched. I looked into the bird’s eye and it looked at me. The moment lasted. And there we were. In it together. Compassion. Co-suffering.

My husband took the scissors since I could not cut strings and hold the bird and have it hold onto me all at the same time. He cut, but no matter how much we cut, the strings around its body did not loosen.

I gently lifted a wing, hoping we could see where the twine was hidden. Nothing. It disappeared amid soft grey feathers.

The bird was fully cupped in my hand now. It defecated on me. Poor frightened thing. But it was so brave, all the time holding onto my finger, like a newborn, looking at me as though for reassurance. “You are so brave, little bird,” I said.

Snip. Snip. We kept working. The bird was separated from the net, but parts of the string stubbornly twined around parts unseen.

I tried to lift its leg again; my husband said that had seemed to help.

I loosened my hand, the one the bird held onto, to try to manouvre its foot. That movement, my breaking the bond, changed everything. It flapped its wings frantically and I could not restrain it, fearing it would hurt itself in the struggle to escape. I let go. For better or worse. What would happen? Any control I might have had over the entire situation and the bird itself was, quite literally, out of my hands.

The dove flew up. It could fly. It flew to the chokecherry tree at the far end of the yard, alighted there for a moment, gathered its wits, and took off into the canopy of trees. It was gone.

We were shaken. We promised to put the net away as soon as we finished playing badminton. Every time. It wasn’t enough to put it aside. The thing was a death trap, especially when it was loose and limp near the wilder part of the garden at the back trees.

I sent love to the little creature right away, in the way that I do, which could be called prayer. I am hoping that because it could fly, and because there were no strings near its head or neck, that the rest of the net will fall away, that we had cut enough of the net that it will drop off as the bird flies and flies.

I hear a mourning dove right now, outside my office window, its distinctive coo-coo-coo coming to me from the maple or the lilac. I noticed it as soon as I started typing. I hope it is our little friend, and that it knows we never meant to harm it. I hope it is happy, healthy and free.

I will never forget its eye on me, and its claw grasping my thumb. I know better now my responsibility to my fellow creatures and my power to harm or help. I know now I must rush out and be couragous, hold compassion in my heart, and love. It does hurt. But it is right.

 Photos are the rear garden on a foggy, rainy day.


  1. Beautifully written, noddingly understood, wonderfully illustrated.
    Thank you.

  2. Thank you. That means a lot.