I saw it at the last possible second, and couldn’t tell whether it was a piece of trash getting caught up among speeding cars, or something else.
It was something else.
That “something else” was a tiny sparrow. While they’re known for quick, exact movements, the idea of a sparrow trying to fly across the street at too low of an altitude struck me as odd. Perhaps it was a young one, recently born into a world of chaos and unsure of its path.
I’d been watching the car ahead of me for a mile or so. Inside, children were fighting; their tiny arms were reaching towards the other, hitting, while they rode in the backseat. The adult who was driving the car would periodically turn around and insert a large, violent hand into the equation. The children would quiet, then do something to anger the driver, resulting in more fury.
The sparrow came into my line of vision at the most violent point of the childrens’ car ride. I’d say it was stunned, but it was still flapping its wings and trying its hardest to regain control. I jerked my wheel ever so slightly to the left when I saw it coming towards the right front-end of my car. I know I avoided it, because I saw it tumbling about when I looked in my rear-view mirror. I wanted to turn around and somehow help it, but it was rush hour; multiple lanes of traffic heading in either direction made it nearly impossible.
When I was little, I went to a Lutheran elementary school for a few years. When our dog died, I asked my teacher if it would go to heaven. She looked at me, clearly shocked that I would be stupid enough to ask such a question. Had they not taught me anything? A series of blinks met my hopeful gaze.
“Well, no — of course not. Animals don’t have souls,” she said. And with her statement, she was finished with my question. My eyes welled up. I was crushed.
I told my parents, and my mom was furious. Couldn’t she have humored me, played along and treated my question similar to the way adults the world over handle Santa queries? Apparently not.
Around that same age, I remember driving with my parents through the desert at night; it was a more tolerable time to cross such an expanse. Out of the darkness, a rabbit darted across the highway. Tried to, that is. He found the wheels of our car, and all I heard was a thump-thump as we ran over him. I sobbed for miles in the backseat; my parents tried to console me, telling me that it probably never felt a thing and that it’s impossible to control things like that.
“Things like that.” Yes, I understood. But this evening’s sparrow was suffering a different fate — one that was more drawn out, more tumultuous, more distressing.
The car with the children and angry driver turned onto another street; I held my breath for the children, and also held it for the small bird. Did it ever regain control and flitter away, hopefully into the safety of a nearby bush? Did another driver manage to be in a better position to help? Did anyone else even bother to have these thoughts about a sparrow?
Disregarding my teacher’s words in my head, I said a prayer for the sparrow. I asked for peace and comfort in a world that seems to accommodate anything but. I asked for a strong yet gentle hand to lead it to safety, but if that wasn’t possible, I asked for it to have a sense of calm in its final moments. It’s a prayer that can also be applied to those children, and it is a prayer that can be applied to us every day of our lives.
Despite not knowing whether the sparrow is alive among us or flying happily in an eternal sky, I am thankful for a new prayer and for the memory of the tiny bird that I saw for only a few seconds. We might be distracted by the violence, the unbelievable events or the sheer human-to-human brutality around us, but there’s usually something just outside our direct line of vision that needs help, a shoulder to cry on or can lead us down a path that can soften our hearts.
For the sparrows in all of our lives, I am grateful.