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The Inevitability of Participating in Life and Death


As I walked by our second-floor window this morning, I looked down and saw a lone, male cardinal scratching through our near-empty feed tray. Snow swirling around his fire-engine-red body, to me he looked lonely and cold. I’d been sitting for a while, my back sore and in need of some movement, so I decided to go out to the garage to get some feed to fill up our feeder. As I was walking, with only the frigid wind keeping me company, Bongo came to mind, as well as the thought, “I miss having something to feed.” Bongo was our beloved Australian Shepherd who had spent the last 15½ years with us until he died this past December.


Feeding the birds seemed like a good thing to do—it always does—this small way of caring for a non-human life. After filling the tray, I came inside and sat with Beth near a window where our feeders hang. Suddenly, I heard her gasp and cry out, “Oh, my!” Startled, I turned around quickly to see a Cooper’s Hawk clutching a small, red form in the white snow. Moments later, I watched him fly off with his broad outstretched wings to a nearby mulberry tree to finish his meal.


Staring out the window for several minutes at the barren, cold ground, I mumbled to myself, “I feel sad. I feel sick. I feel guilty.” Having thought that I was doing a kind and good thing, I can imagine this hungry little cardinal’s heart quickening as he came to the tray, now full of seeds and berries. Then, seconds later, boom! He was gone in a terrifying rush of fury and feathers.


For some reason, my mind quickly returned to Bongo. I remember those final seconds and my last glimpse of him as he was carried away, forever. He looked sad, bewildered, betrayed and frightened. I am still caught in the living paradox, like feeding birds who may become a hawk’s next meal. I have no satisfying resolution to my guilt and my well-intended choices.


Finally, as I sat in what had become a melancholy morning for me, I quietly said to Beth, “We participate in one another’s life. And we participate in one another’s death.”


The paradox still remains with me. I see no resolution to the questions or the guilt lingering in my heart and mind. Perhaps the best any of us can do is to not shrink back from life or death. To error on the side of love, even as we seek to be genuine and gentle in both the lives and deaths in which we must inevitably participate.

  • Fall Creek Abbey
  • Fall Creek Abbey

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