I was playing with my son at a neighborhood playground when I noticed the carcass of a small dead bird under a tree. It was nothing but a leathery and hollowed ribcage with wings and a skull. My son was playing nearby, and I kicked his ball away. Off he went to get it.
I wanted to bury the dead bird before he returned. I was not ready to have the conversation with a seven-year-old. My eyes darted over the ground and locked onto a stick I could use as a digging tool. I felt the ground. It was hard. I could hear my son pick up the ball and shout something. I dug quickly, but all I could manage was a shallow trench. My son was back before I finished digging. I looked up from my work.
I saw my dog run over by a 442 SuperSport when I was five years old, right in the street in front of our home. The driver was drunk. It could have been me bleeding out and gasping. He died fetching a tennis ball. My parents had told me the dog was sleeping. He was in heaven. I remember thinking, I should stay in hell. A year later I saved a kid’s life who was trying to commit suicide on railroad tracks. Last year my son saved our neighbor’s baby’s life when he noticed the toddler had wandered into the steep road between our houses. I ran into the road in front of a car rushing down the hill and waved my hands, screaming at the driver. The baby’s father ran out and scooped him up.
Last year, I saved a kid from drowning at a public pool so crowded no one noticed him flailing underwater. You can imagine the look of terror on his face when I hauled him up above the surface and asked him if he was okay. He was crying. He was black. I was white. Black lives matter.
“Is he…is he sleeping?” Alarm crept upon my son’s brow, turned his mouth down, and tightened the muscles around his eyes as though bracing for a punch to the face. He took a step backwards. I told him the bird was dead, and the body goes back to the ground. I was having the conversation about death with my disabled son. My son just stared at the bird, puzzled.
He watched me gently lift the bird with a couple of sticks. A wing detached and tumbled onto the grass. My son gasped. I placed the pieces in the grave, but I did not have enough soil. It was shallow. I ran to a nearby campfire pit, scooped some ashy sand and was able to get most of it back to the burial site. It was under the tree by the slide where my son has played since he was a baby. I filled and topped the grave. “Maybe that makes it better.” I honestly believed that was so. As if by confirmation, I noticed a bird land on a bough above me. It watched me. Why was it so?
A few years ago, my cat ran away. I was worried and sad. A coworker thought she spotted it dead on the local state highway. I cried over it and buried it after work in the freezing cold, by flashlight. I used a snow shovel because I had nothing else with which to bury who I thought was my cat. He was a stray that had spent half of its life in an adoption room and seemed to have met his end when he wandered into headlights on a romp outdoors. I went to class, and then to work in a deeply morose state. My cat showed up the next day, dirty, ravenous, and tired, but thankfully unhurt. I wondered if it was really my cat. The one I buried looked just like him.
I was looking at the mound. My son tore a tuft of grass and some leaves from the ground and carefully dropped them on the dirt. I was deeply affected by that. My son then said, ” I need to fix it.” He was spreading the grass evenly. I told him it was already fixed, it was okay. He did not seem so sure, though, and I realized I had to work harder to find out why. All he had was faith.