On the way home yesterday, I drove up Davey Street. I stopped off to post a letter outside a large, old fashioned home surrounded by a brick wall. As I stepped out of the car, I noticed a white, crumpled something at the base of the wall. A plastic bag? I looked more closely. It was a bird. A white dove, symbol of peace and hope, bearer of the olive branch to the ark in its desert of water. It lay on its side, its beak tightly closed. Its pink feet were slightly curled, the wings helpless and half folded by its side. Snowy white, unruffled feathers. Deceptive perfection, its eyes not shiny and bright but crawling with tiny black ants. How could the outside be so beautiful, like a drawing from a children’s picture book, when it was dead? That dove was no messenger of hope but a warning sign. All too easy to defend yourself against pain and grief by cutting off your emotions, but be warned. You will die inside, like the dove, the outside turning into a pointless shell.
Last night, as I was half awake, I remembered the farm. Life and death were ever present there. No turning away, as we do in smug suburbia, pretending it’s nothing to do with us. When the hens were broody, I checked their nests often. One morning, they would be gone from their warm hideaway, leaving just a few broken eggshells and perhaps an old egg, never alive. This I would carry away, careful not to break it, and then clean the nest and fill it with fresh straw. Sometimes, though, I would find a lifeless chick left behind. A late hatchling. I would pick it up and hold the limp, tiny body for a minute before taking it to the compost to be food for a hawk or crow raising its own young. One day, as I put a chick onto the heap of half-rotted vegetables and leaves, it opened its beak and gave out the faintest chirp. There was a tug at my heart, a shock almost of horror, it was so unexpected. I quickly picked it up again and looked at it closely. It felt cold, its lumpy small body caked in small pieces of broken egg shell; damp, bedraggled feathers stuck to its side. Surely one of the ugliest of creatures, yet it still had a tiny spark of the beauty of life. I took it inside and dried it off a little, careful not to damage the fragile skin. I wrapped it in a hanky and tucked it into my bra, nestled next to my heart. Its icy body warmed only slowly and it didn’t move for a long time. I carried it with me all day and slowly life returned to it, tiny stirrings and chirps. When I showed it to the children as they came home from school that afternoon, its eyes were open and it was covered in downy fluff. That evening, after the mother hen returned to her nest, I quietly slipped into the henhouse. The chick cheeped as I tucked it in under the hen next to its siblings. Its mother grumbled quietly before settling herself gently back on the straw. The next morning, the nest was empty.
There are times when you need to find that safe space in yourself to hide and heal. It’s not easy. It can seem as futile as looking for an island in a stormy, dark sea. Don’t give up. You can change your life. There is no destiny. No divine hand put the dove there for me to find. Everyone who saw it now has a different memory, a different meaning. The world is like a book, there for us to read if our hearts and minds are open, the words changing like magic for each one of us. The saddest thing is to close our minds and learn nothing. Better to have pain and sadness and find our way through them than no feeling at all. While we can feel, there is still a spark of hope, like the fragment of life in the chick.