Last week, I found a bird’s nest under the hood of my car. Yes, you read that correctly. True, I have not been using my car regularly, a trip here and there. The last couple of rides a little brown bird had popped out from under my hood. I have been so distracted with all of the happenings in the world that by the time I returned home, I had completely forgotten about these curious occurrences.
Until last Thursday when, during breakfast, I happened to look out of my kitchen window and spot that little brown bird with some dried grasses in its beak. I watched her hop on my windshield then disappear into a crack. There must be a nest. Hmmm. Should I leave it? I considered this, but then I had visions of baby birds hatching just as our Covid lockdown lightens up. Out it must come, I decided, and I hoped I removed it before any eggs were laid. So on came my gardening gloves and up came the hood and there it was, compact and knitted together from all sorts of leaves and dropped helicopter seedlings from the nearby Maple tree. It was tucked into the left-hand corner atop my car’s engine. I gingerly pulled and tugged, one corner and then the next until out it popped and only a little worse for wear. How do I let the mother know of its relocation? Do I lay a trail of sunflower seeds? As I placed it into the crook of a branch on a nearby serviceberry tree, I peek inside and there lay 3 delicate white eggs with tiny brown spots.
It strikes me in our current, peculiar predicament that those of us who have been lucky enough to have choices are more now than ever living their results. Every day as we putter around our homes all that we have built lies in plain sight and we are being forced to take account. Whatever your successes, failures, wins, mistakes – however you may want to quantify these things – during this time of isolation you are living with them without the option of distraction. As we sit still, whether paired or not, with children or not, with roommates or not, you are currently living - to the extreme - with this choice.
A long time ago, before law school, I was a social worker. I worked with homeless adults and emotionally disturbed teenagers. I chose this route after college because I wanted to expand my horizons. I went looking for other’s stories as a way to better understand myself and the world. I dipped in and then I dipped back out again when I went to law school a short three years later. I was a tourist. At the time, I thought these experiences bestowed upon me a type of empathy that allowed me to see all types of people. To notice the sleeping bag in the doorway of the office building in Gallery Place or the woman and her dog sitting outside the 7-Eleven on Connecticut Avenue. I believed then, and for a long time after, that I would always notice these people, that the lens of that empathy would remain intact. I was wrong. It takes a lot of work and effort to see people in their circumstances, to notice things, to look into their eyes and not away as I scurry about my day.
A few days have passed and the momma does not seem to be coming back to her nest so I call the Virginia Wildlife Center in Waynesboro to find out what I can do. I ask, perhaps they have an incubator? Perhaps there is another bird who can incorporate these 3 into her nest? I am told that it is illegal to rehab eggs in the state of Virginia. The voice on the other end surmised that the law was put in place for budgetary reasons. There is nothing more to be done, she said. We were both quiet a moment. These eggs will always stay the same, daily losing viability. I felt terrible and stuck in my lumbering humanness. Yes, I live here and am currently sedentary in the country, but I am waiting to take flight back to whatever my life might look like without the backdrop of this illness. Me and these eggs, I thought, we have a few things in common.
A few years ago, I noticed increasing numbers of people I saw who appeared to be living on the streets. I saw them in Charlottesville and DC – small town or country – there just seemed to be more people teetering on the edge. I noted it and then went about my life. As an adult, I know that this is the way of our society. I also know that my younger self would not have tolerated this response. Still, for all of my empathy, best intentions, and donations, I prosper while so many other people do not. This feels an especially extra responsibility when the daily Covid-death numbers of black and brown people are tallied and read. These numbers catch my breath. I have no answers. I only know that I have too much. So, I have begun to clear things: clothes, toiletries, food – whatever I may pass along. I look ahead and I wonder about the other side of this pandemic. Will we ever feel ourselves again, wearing our lives lightly, careless about our freedom? Will we remember the people that we became – for the good and the bad – during this time as we sit in our nests smack dab in the middle of the culmination of our choices, ambitions, and dreams?
In this surreal state, I can only hope that we all have moments where, taken out of our lives, we can look more fully at others. I know that my inconvenience is a privilege. I think about the people whose daily contributions to my existence are so large and important. And I think about the other people, the ones in DC making decisions about money and assistance – who gets what, who deserves what. My hope for both is a steady ray that I send along on the spring breeze that heads north. And every day, I watch this little nest in the crook of the tree, so elegantly built, quiet, waiting for its mother to return home.