The Warrior Bird
Last week, in Life & Death, I wrote about the snake attacking the robin’s nest. By the end of the day I had seen that one tiny bird remained still alive. Having thwarted death, it was given another chance at life. I wondered if it would make it. From my own experiences, I also know that we are given many opportunities to defeat death, and that, even without our consciously knowing it, we may choose the path of spirit and that once that path is chosen there is no turning back. We are given every opportunity to wake up and notice that the world we live in is set up so that we can evolve, which in my experiences eventually leads us to the opportunity to experience energy. Once we become aware that we are here for reasons beyond reason, our next challenge is to recognize and accept that we have chosen what the seers of ancient Mexico call the warriors’ path. As Carlos Castaneda writes in The Wheel of Time on page 55 in a quote from A Separate Reality:
“When a man embarks on the warriors’ path he becomes aware, in a gradual manner, that ordinary life has been left forever behind. The means of the ordinary world are no longer a buffer for him: he must adopt a new way of life if he is going to survive.”
After an early morning walk on Saturday, Chuck and I decided to sit in my studio. It was a rainy morning, the first rain we’d had in weeks. The windows were wide open and we were enjoying the sounds of the pattering rain, the thunder and cool dampness. We sipped our coffee and settled into our favorite chairs in the corner of the room by the open windows to read, write, and talk. As soon as we sat down I heard tiny bird peeps coming from the bush just outside the window where the robins were nesting. I feared that the snake had returned, but to my surprise instead saw the small fledgling sitting on the end of a flimsy branch, shaking the rain off its stubby wings, its parents nowhere in sight. The baby bird peeped away, incessantly calling out, looking lost, hesitant, and uncertain. I wondered if the parents had abandoned it. Did bird parents simply fly off and leave their young to fend for themselves when the time came for the babies to fly?
As we watched, the baby poked its head out from under the branches and opened its beak wide. Suddenly the mother bird swooped down, hovered in front of it for a few seconds and dropped some tasty morsel into its hungry mouth before flying off again. I then saw that she and the male robin were sitting in the nearby oak tree, a mere few yards from the bush where the baby fluttered and floundered about. They were gently calling to it, encouraging it to come to them.
We watched, fascinated, as the baby bird made many feeble and unsuccessful attempts to fly toward the parents. It popped its head out of the leaves, flexed its wings, and then dove back into the foliage, again and again, shaking the rain from its wings and head, hunkering down, not quite ready yet. The parents called and the baby seemed to answer back, saying: “Really, is that what you want me to do? You really think I can fly over to that branch? Are you crazy? Nope! No way. I’m staying right here.”
Over and over again, it stubbornly refused the call. It was like watching someone stand on the edge of a swimming pool, unable to make the dive into the cold water, knowing that eventually they would take the plunge, but avoidant, reluctant to experience the shock and thrill of the first dip. The baby bird was like this. One moment it looked like it would go, vigorously shaking the rain from its wings, feeling their full length, tipping forward as if to take flight, but just as it seemed that it would let go and fly it would retreat back into the leaves, grabbing even tighter to the tiny branches.
I realized that the baby would not be returning to the nest, that once it had left it there would be no turning back. The parents had lured it to the opposite side of the bush pointing away from the nest. There was nowhere to go now except out into the world. This was, indeed, its day to conquer its fears and learn to fly. As Castaneda writes: “One of the greatest forces in the lives of warriors is fear, because it spurs them to learn.” (From The Wheel of Time, page 238)
Our encounter with the process of this warrior bird was interrupted by an appointment with death. What Castaneda writes, also in The Wheel of Time, on page 239, is the following: “For a seer, the truth is that all living beings are struggling to die. What stops death is awareness.”
The Cat Who Could Talk
Our elderly cat, Abby, at eighteen, was deaf, blind, and increasingly incontinent. For months we had struggled with her difficulties, knowing that she was showing us obvious signs of her imminent demise. For the greater part of a month we’d been hoping she would die on her own while fearing that we would have to make the final decision to put her to sleep. It is an agonizing decision to have to make, with questions arising about quality of life (hers and ours); about what is more humane, putting her down or letting her live on in obvious discomfort? We also knew that had she lived a more natural life out in the world, she would have been picked off a long time ago, too weak to survive. Did she still have some good moments? Yes, but we knew it was getting closer and closer to her time to be released from this life.
Abby was not an easy cat to have in the household, ever. She was narcissistic, the queen, insisting that she have it her way. She lorded over the other cats, snarled and swiped at the dog, and let us know, in no uncertain terms, that she was not happy with sharing her house with other pets. But aside from that behavior she was the only cat I ever knew who could express herself in a language that sounded very much like English. She used to sit in the window and talk to the birds. “You look so yummy. If I were outside right now you would be in my mouth, a tasty morsel! Yyy-um! Yyy-um! Yyy-um!” she would croak. When she wanted to go outside she would stand by the door and yowl: “Rrr-out! Rrr-out! Rrr-out!” If she needed us for something she would call out, increasingly louder and louder as she got older and deafer: “Hello-Oo! Hello-Oo! Hello-Oo! I need you! I need you!” She used her parrot like talk to warn us many times when something was not right with the other animals, that someone needed us, or that there was imminent danger. She would call incessantly until we came and addressed the issue, and only then would she settle back into her favorite spot, mission accomplished.
For about a week I’d been finding her hiding in small places, inside closets, tucked into tiny spots behind furniture or far back underneath a kitchen counter. I’d hear her calling, “Hello-Oo!” and I’d go searching for her, sometimes finding her, sometimes not. I knew she was looking for a place to die. I remembered this from childhood; dogs suddenly wandering off, going to die; sometimes they’d be found in the places they had selected, sometimes not.
By Friday, I knew it was time to help her, to make the agonizing decision to put her down. As I said, it is never easy. I looked for signs, did some research, waited for her to tell me that it was indeed her time, and then I called the vet. Once I let her know what was happening she calmed down and spent the rest of the day beneath the kitchen cabinet, barely breathing. When I told the kids that she was telling us she was dying, they both accepted it. “Yup!” my son agreed, “I’ve been telling you that for a long time.” My daughter said, “I know, Mom. She told me last night.”
So we left the baby bird to its struggles to launch itself and took our old cat to the vet, to help her launch into her own new world. “What will you be in your next life, another cat?” we asked. “Or will you perhaps be a dog?” She settled calmly into my arms as we drove, wrapped in a towel that Chuck had chosen for her, a maroon one with a golden crown embroidered into it, fitting wrappings for the old queen. She remained calm until the moment of death, and then she fought it, hissing and pulling away, tugging at our hearts, we who dared to put the queen to sleep. Even if it was her will to die, she was going to fight it, because that’s who she was. Once again I quote Castaneda from The Wheel of Time where he states, on page 134: “A warrior dies the hard way. His death must struggle to take him. A warrior does not give himself to death so easily.”
We struggled with the outcome of our old warrior queen’s final seconds, unnerved by the experience, agonizing again over the decision we’d made on her behalf. The vet, a gentle man who does not take this task lightly, confirmed our concerns over whether or not we were doing the right thing. He said that animals rarely die in their sleep; the end we so wished for Abby. “It would be rare to wake up in the morning and find her gone,” he said, “much as we all wish that for our pets.” He too is struggling with his old dog, having to face making the same decision, having to determine that the time is right.
We took Abby home and buried her in the backyard, facing south, our other cat Cosi, her companion in life, opposite her, facing to the north. Our sadness was heavier because we face this dilemma with our old dog, Spunky, who at seventeen has already lived far beyond her expected age and we know we must undertake this most difficult task again in the not too distant future.
Later we retreated to the studio, to see what had transpired with the fledgling. It was still there, still struggling to make the leap, still tentative and still fearful. The parents patiently and gently called to it, allowing the process to take the time it must take. Unfortunately, though we would have liked to have waited with them and watched this most amazing feat of nature, we had other things to do that day, so we left the bird, sending it good wishes for its journey into life. Later, upon returning home, we discovered that it had flown, that this was indeed the day to fly!
I looked for the baby bird in the trees as we sat in the yard that evening, hoping to get a glimpse of him on the wing, but he was nowhere to be found. Every time I heard a tiny peep I’d whip around, until Chuck told me to cut it out, I was driving him crazy. At one point I saw what I took to be his mother, come to speak to us from the oak tree, telling us that all was well. And later, perhaps it was the father who perched in the pine opposite us, singing of his brave fledgling’s journey, having taken flight, now on it’s way to becoming a warrior, the first step taken, no turning back. And later that night I heard Abby purring, letting us know that she too was on her journey, freed to take flight, aware, transformed into energy.
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Wishing you all love and a good week,
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