You could say it was a small thing. A bird dying. In a world where terrorism, war, genocide and natural calamities scream from every headline, not something to philosophize about or to romanticize. And yet, it was something unique in my experience, and I’ve been affected by it, perhaps will even learn from it.
A family of blue jays visited our yard. Perhaps they’d been there for a few days, but we only noticed them on Sunday, a rare morning, lounging on our back deck with nothing hurrying us to get done. Ponczka heard it first – the smaller of the two jays cawing loudly and repeatedly from somewhere close by. Then we spotted it, flitting about among the trees we’ve planted and watched grow. Soon we saw that it was Mawa, the middle member of our three cats, attracting the jay’s attention. Mawa stalked her way back and forth amid the shrubs at the base of the fence, studying the loud one, and it’s larger partner, perched contentedly high up on a utility pole, paying no attention to the ruckus.
We haven’t had blue jays in our yard very often. It was pleasant. We wondered if the pair had young ones. Our cats catch – and eat – mice and birds, but we weren’t concerned about these two. They were so big.
It was a few hours later that it happened. I was at the kitchen sink, which looks out over the yard. There was a sudden spike in the cawing of one of the jays. Enough for Ponczka to remark, from another room, that it must be trying to shoo off one of the cats. In an instant, as though on cue, Mawa streaked up the back outside wall, treading the window ledge and the thick ivy until she was above the window, then as quickly lowering herself to ground level, now with a full-sized jay clenched in her jaw by the throat and upper breast. She reached ground and darted into the kitchen just as I approached with my arms waving – trying to intercept. Mawa released her grip and the bird tumbled on its back to the kitchen floor, wings flailing erratically and its chest throbbing and convulsing violently. The jay’s neck was bent and limp, it’s beak working, and its eyes clouded over as the last of its desperate tremors subsided, leaving it implacably dead.
The whole event took less than ten seconds.
I realized then – and it stays with me now – that I’ve never seen death come so suddenly and surely to a creature who watched it come and struggled against it. There was never a doubt, from my first glimpse of Mawa’s fangs impaled in the creature’s throat, that this was an end. Life left the jay’s body as swiftly as liquid spilling from a toppled glass.
And what effect has this sudden death had? It punctuated how fleeting a blessing can be. And it reminded me of the indifference of nature. It was only minutes later, after I’d removed the corpse to the yard, that Mawa reappeared, wanting petting, and reassurance that all was well. And meanwhile, the other jay cawed its angry protest into the evening.
There was news today of a heart attack and imminent death in the family. And there are stories every day of murder and senseless accidents. What can a bird’s death mean? Maybe nothing more or less than any other death following life. All things end. Joy is no monument. It only comes in moments.