It was beginning to get a little warmer. The Sun came up early in the morning. The buds were sprouting from the bare branches of the trees in the neighbor’s backyard.
Alighting on a top branch, a little bluebird, rubbed its beak on the dry bark. It was as if the little bird was caressing the branches, silently acknowledging the hardships and bravery. The bird was thankful that the tree was still standing. This was the tree she had chosen to build her nest.
Two weeks ago, there was a late winter blizzard that lasted for two consecutive days. Heavy snowflakes piled up on the branches and covered the tree with a numbingly cold blanket. But the tree kept alive the hope of spring in the depth of its heart. The glow of hope kept it warm even in the dark freezing nights.
A few trees broke their branches from the sheer weight of the snow. Most of the others sprung back when the Sun melted the snow, later on. In the next few days, it got much warmer. The lawns turned green. New hope sprouted everywhere as if Mother Nature had fallen in love, again.
The birds were busy building nests on the trees. One could hear them in the early morning, chirping melodiously, announcing the advent of spring. Soon it will be mating season. In a short while, these nests will be the home of many young chicks.
The daylight stayed around longer in the evenings. The neighborhood kids were playing outside after school. Anika, a pretty teenaged girl, stood on her porch, against the railing, staring ahead. She looked sad and frustrated with her life. The tree in her backyard was make rustling sounds to soothe her. She would sigh deeply and look at the blue sky. She saw the birds flying carelessly or cooing to each other sitting on a branch. Just looking at them, Anika knew they were happy. “Do the birds ever think like me? I am having a terrible day! Firstly, I misplaced my violin after orchestra class and then I got a C on the Math test. Then, to top it all, Ms. Mills caught me swearing at the bully of the class. Nothing seems to go my way. How can I explain all this to Mom? How can I have control over my life? I cannot think of any way to stop disasters from happening. I am terrified that I am about to face
a dangerous situation. I will be destroyed.”
“How would a bird feel, at a difficult moment? It would probably acknowledge that it has fallen into a deep hole. It may look for a way out. Perhaps, it will look at many possibilities till there is no way out that it can find. But it might still think that the next moment may bring some new hope.”
Secretly the girl wished to be one of the birds, even though, she did not quite understand what was so liberating about being a bird. It was not the eyes or the cute beak. It was not just the wings. It was not the flying in the open sky. It was not even the descent to perch on a branch.
Birds have friends but they are free. Birds have kids but they are on their own, for the most part of their lifetime. No one really belongs to anyone and each one belongs to the surroundings.
The sense of freedom was palpable, even when last spring it was pouring cats and dogs. The birds were hanging on to the wet slippery branches all drenched and foolish, waiting for the rain to stop. The birds were not really enjoying the rain but they were not terrified or worried. Instinctively, they would sometimes scoot over for more foliage cover or glide down to the lower branches where their friends were huddled together. Simply put, they accepted the situations as they came. There was no conflict or confusion. What came must be faced.
On a hot summer afternoon, as Anika stood on the porch with her routine worries and fears, she noticed that her favorite bluebird had got caught in a piece of kite thread. A few days ago, the wind was perfect for flying kites. A bunch of neighborhood kids was flying kites. The kite threads were specially made with glass dust and glue over it to cut through other kite threads in the kite flying game. One of the kites had got entangled in a nearby tree branch. The kite was retrieved but some of the thread was still caught on the tree branches.
As she stood there concerned about the well-being of the helpless bird, she heard her mother call her from inside. “Sweetie, please give me a glass of water.” Anika ran inside to help her mother. Her mother was lying in bed, feeling very tired. She had gone through a lot of tests. The reports would help diagnose the real cause of her sickness. Anika’s mother had been working long hours at home and on her outside job for the past few months. The previous day after dinner, she had fainted after vomiting blood. She just got discharged from the hospital a few hours ago. A slight smile appeared on the dry lips as she saw her daughter hand her a glass of water. “Thank you, dear.”
Her mother took a few sips and laid back down. Anika rushed back to the porch to check up on the bird. Unfortunately, the bird’s wing had slipped through the mess of threads. The glass dust coating cut through the flesh and the thread went in deeper into her wing.
The poor thing was completely trapped. She cried for help as she flapped her wings vigorously. Her companions heard the cry and came in a large group to help. The wing was deeply entangled in the loops of thread. The flock of friends tried their best to free the little bird by pecking on it to cut it loose. After many tries, they gave up and flew away.
From time to time, the bird flapped her wings vigorously with the hope of getting free. The tree was mature and towering over the backyard. The little bird was caught near one of the top branches. No ladder could reach that branch. Anika didn’t even know if it was possible for anyone to climb that tree to reach up to the bird. Things were not looking up. The unfortunate bird remained trapped, hanging from the tree branch.
The phone in the girl pocket vibrated. She answered the call. “Hi, Dad, what’s is the update?” She heard the sound of gulping. The voice was trembling. “I wish I did not have to tell you this but I don’t know who else to talk to. I got a call from the doctor a few minutes ago, regarding your Mom’s recent tests…. It’s bad news. Your mommy has third stage pancreatic cancer. I will do everything possible to fight this. But I want you to be prepared for the tough times ahead.”
As if lightning had struck her, the girl stood there frozen and dumbfounded. “Why did this happen to Mom? This cannot be true.”
She wanted to hug her mother but tears were uncontrollably streaming down her cheeks. The girl stood on the porch and calmed herself down. Staring into nothingness, she thought about all the years that her mother had cared for her.
The western sky turned pink. The Sun was a beautiful red dot half-hidden behind the veil of gray clouds. Many birds were flying back to their nests. Anika heard the bluebird cooing for her friends.
She slowly went inside to her mother. “Mom, if I have ever hurt your feelings I am sorry. I will always listen to you and be good. ” Her mother looked surprised. She laughed, “Sweetie, you are behaving as if I will never get better.” Anika made a pretended angry face. “That’s not what I meant. I will just listen to you more and be a good girl.” “I know what you mean. You are no longer my little baby. You are actually ready to face the world. I am so proud of you!” They hugged each other tightly. Just then, the doorbell rang. Anika left her mother’s side to answer the door.
The next several months, Anika was true to her word. She did all her homework, chores and violin practices on her own, meticulously. She helped her Dad with meals and cleaning dishes. Her mother was happy but did not regain her old energy. She was especially tired after her chemotherapy treatments.
Anika cared for her mother in every possible way, without complaining to anyone about her situation. She was much more patient as she attended to her mother’s needs. Sometimes, Anika could not help noticing the irony of the situation. She had never felt this close to her mother ever before.
Often her mother called Anika to the bedside, at night, and related to her the most wonderful stories. They were stories from her own childhood, Japanese fairytales, Jewish legends or stories from Indian mythology. The young girl’s mind traveled through exotic lands and historic times. The whole world opened up in new ways for her on those nights.
Her mind absorbed the wisdom and morals of the story but at the same time, new questions filled her inquiring mind. She tried to find her own answers during the day by observing, carefully, everything happening around her.
Out of curiosity, Anika would go to the porch every morning and check on the bluebird. As days went by, the bird became tired and silent. Sometimes, the bird would flap her wings slightly, indicating the remnants of an undying hope. After a few more days the flapping also stopped.
Finally, one day, the bird hung there from the tree branch swinging in the breeze without any resistance. A sharp pang went through the girl’s heart as she realized that the carcass was lifeless. It took almost another month for the body to decompose and disappear completely. The other birds did not make a big deal. It was not the end of the world for them. There was no lingering lamentation. They let their lives flow on without any judgment, being a bird, natural, carefree and of no particular importance…… being a bird, thoughtless, fearless and soaring high in freedom.