Five years ago I stood in a petshop and picked a bird out of a bin of about 100 Budgies. “I want THAT one.” The clerk tried to catch him with her hands, but the bird was Charlie Manson crazy and wouldn’t let her anywhere near him.
“Ma’am are you sure you want this one? I mean, they’re all the same anyway.”
I assured her that THIS was the one I had to have. With a huge sigh she went and fetched a fish net….you know, the kind you clean out an aquarium with. After about 5 minutes of struggle, she finally trapped him under the net.
It was an early birthday gift for my husband because he’d mentioned he’d always wanted a bird. But it became quite clear that the bird was to be mine. Not necessarily because he preferred me….more like I was the one stuck doing all the cage-cleaning and feeding.
I didn’t know a thing about birds. Quite frankly, pet birds have always scared the beans out of me….with their sharp little beaks and feet. After about a week of his incessant singing, we decided on a name. Bing. As in Bing Crosby. I sat by his cage for at least an hour every single day…for close to four months. Talking to him, easing my hand into his cage. I can remember the day he stepped cautiously onto my hand, his eyes skeptical.
I’d read somewhere that Budgies were very smart birds, so I set about testing this theory. He had hanging bells in his cage….so I started telling him, “Ring your bells, Bing! Ring your bells!” After about a week, dang if he didn’t start ringing those bells! When he saw how we reacted, he started showing off even more….putting this bells on his head and squawking like an avian comedian.
My daughter has taken Bing to school for the past two years…and Bing never failed to put on a show for the kids. He would actually pout when it was time to go. Yesterday morning, he joined Cali in singing “Oops, I did it again” and kissed her hand through the slats of his cage. His happy singing filled the house all day yesterday…just like it did everyday for the past 5 years. I always said, “How can you have a bad day when a bird is singing in your house all day?”
This morning we found Bing….dead. He lay peacefully below his bells….eyes gently close, his wings wrapped snugly around his body. He must have died in the early morning hours. I fell apart.
Bing was more than just a bird to me. He’d come into my life just as I was beginning to fight this bipolar. He taught me patience. He taught me about trust. He taught me that fear was unnecessary. As my five year old sat on the floor, wailing right along side of me….all she kept saying was, “Bing brought me so much happiness! He made me happy!”
But then to hear her begging God to make Bing alive again…I mean, what do you say? Cali immediately grabbed her crayons and paper and began drawing a picture she wanted Bing to have when he was buried. A couple of weeks ago, a squirrel got fried on the transformer behind our house, and it nearly traumatized Cali.
I was so unprepared for the whole “Death” conversation. So I just told her what I believe to be true. That every living being has a soul. And each soul is here for a purpose. We may not always know what that purpose is. We may go to our graves still not knowing. We may shake a fist at God at the unfairness of certain deaths. So I tried to explain that even though the body gets sick or hurt, the soul continues to live. Always.
We lived in a mint chocolate green house before we moved to our new one. Cali loved that house. She took her first steps in that house.
“You know how you loved that green house? It was sad to leave it, wasn’t it? But even though we’re not in that house…we’re still alive aren’t we? We just live in a new house. Well, Bing lives in a new house now.”
That seemed to make sense to her. But then she promptly pointed out that she was able to still drive by the green house to make sure it was still there. She couldn’t do that with a dead bird. No. You can’t see Bing with your bare eyes. But when you have a happy memory of Bing….he’s there. Or when you see another bird hop up onto your window sill and give you a knowing look…he’s there. When you hear bells ringing…he’s there.
In explaining this to my child, I realized I was also telling it to myself. Because I’m just as lost and sad as Cali. I don’t understand it either. I’m angry that our beautiful bird is dead and our stupid mean cat is still alive.
As the three of us sat huddled together on the floor beneath Bing’s cage, my husband said, “Bing finished what he was here to do.”
So all morning, I’ve been thinking about how far we’ve come in the past five years. I’ve successfully kicked bipolar’s butt and become a published writer. Cali is starting Kindergarten in the fall…a whole new world. We’re in a beautiful new home. In a failing economy, Matt has a thriving and stable job. And through all of this, Bing stood singing. He never once stopped singing. And maybe…even though we didn’t know it….it was Bing’s song that gave us hope when we felt like we were drowning. Maybe Bing’s wordless song urged us to get up and keep going.
Today is Ash Wednesday and across this nation, people are kneeling in front of their priest and are being reminded, “For dust you are and to dust you shall return”. A painful reminder of our mortality.
We plan to bury Bing later today under our Dogwood tree….with his bells and Cali’s pictures. The Dogwood tree has historical symbolism. That being divine sacrifice, triumph of eternal life, resurrection and regeneration.
Like a child, I’ll be watching to see signs of Bing’s presence. Because even though I’m pissed and in pain right now…I know Bing’s soul is still with us.
His final lesson? Teaching me that I don’t need eyes to see….I need vision…and a fearless trusting heart.
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