October 04, 2015
Little Joe and the Wrong Choice
by Catherine King
I wrote Part One of this piece two years before writing Part Two.
Yes, I've been blessed with the gift of time. So many years in which to review my long life and many sins, to ponder in my heart which incidents were most important, and why.
Yet I must confess that I denied someone else the time to do the same. If only . . .
Part One: Little Joe
Once I had mountains in the palm of my hand...
--Bob Dylan, I Threw It All Away
It was one week, exactly. From 10:00 a.m. July 17 to 10:00 a.m. July 24. I held Little Joe Bangles in the palm of my hand. He was just about the most vulnerable creature imaginable-- a baby mockingbird, no more than two inches long and two days old when he fell out of Heaven and into my life. During those seven days, the tiny being became the center of my world; a spiritual guide who inspired me to dream impossible dreams and caught me up in his ministry about the value of Life.
* * * * *
I had just returned from a quick errand. The temperature in central Phoenix was already soaring over 110 degrees that morning. Hurrying back to the shelter of our apartment, I stepped from the baking parking lot onto the broiling sidewalk that passes under a brute of a palm tree. Suddenly, I was hit by a wave of power. The intense force that I felt wasn't the radiant heat. It was the Life Force emanating from a tiny naked bird who lay helpless at the stark trunk of the crude palm. He lay there where he had fallen; from his birth nest to the cruel, hard earth 20 feet below.
Visions of the shriveled corpses of other chicks rushed back to my recollection. I'd seen dead babies on this very spot at least a couple of times. Like those tiny dried remains, the pathetic creature before me now was obviously doomed. With the temperature on the ground climbing dangerously by the minute, this defenseless infant, who was looking up to me so beseechingly, would surely endure horrendous agony in the short time he had left. Yet at this moment, the little bird still had the sparkle of Life in his baby black eyes and that spark leapt up and caught my soul on fire. It would be out of the question to leave him by the sidewalk, exposed here in this inferno to every evil passerby who might wish to do him harm.
Once, Jerome and I found an earthbound hawk in the driveway of the old house. At that time, I felt that humans were pretty much the touch of Death to wild animals. I had no self-confidence, on account of being carefully taught that we were the scourge of nature. Noninterference-- that was our proper stance in the natural world. So I turned my back on the bird and went inside. When I came out to check on him about half an hour later, the hawk was gone. He'd been able to fly away or had found somewhere to hide and recover (I hoped.)
But now I bent over this other pathetic creature. No animal so young, unformed and motherless, could withstand the shock and grievous injuries this tiny bird must have sustained in his fall from the sky. If I'd thought he had any chance at survival, I would not have picked him up. But clearly, Death had already staked its claim on this little baby. The damage would surely prove fatal. So now it had become my responsibility to provide him with a cool and safe place to die, in the air-conditioned hospice of our apartment.
I remembered reading that horses handle emergencies better when they're blindfolded. Maybe it was so with baby birds, as well. I reached into my bag, grabbed a handkerchief and spread it over my left palm. Then I crossed the bridge between species and tenderly closed my right hand around the newborn flesh. Swiftly I placed the bird in his gurney, immediately covering his little head, so as to eliminate any more psychological trauma on his transport to the Human World.
Casting my memory back there now, right before I climbed the stairway to our apartment with the tiny bird in hand, it seemed his weight suddenly increased about fiftyfold. This happened just as I brought Little Joe past the spot that would soon become his grave. The mysterious sensation only lasted a moment. I adjusted my bird hand to the shifting weight of my burden and brought the tiny tragedy on home.
The inside of our apartment was cool, but not frigid--good, no jarring temperature changes. Next I turned off the ceiling fan-- no drafts; those were lethal for small birds, if memory served. I flipped on the light. A little light probably wouldn't be too jarring for him, seeing as he'd just been under the blazing sun for who knows how long. And I needed the light to assess his condition--oh no, left side visibly crushed. Placing the damaged baby in a shallow box on the dining room table, I rushed to bring the statue of St. Francis, with a bird on each outstretched arm, to watch over the pitifull creature each remaining second of the untimely hour of his death.
I wanted to hold the poor dying thing so badly, but worried that would be too distressing for him. His nerves were probably all jangled from the impact of hitting the ground from such a great height. I was afraid he'd be unable to bear the neurological pressure and psychological stress of my touch. If only I could stroke him with a touch of my finger that was lighter than air.
Maybe the little bird would react to the stroke of a feather as the most natural and comforting form of contact; like his birth mother, or an angel. We had some nice feathers around our apartment--a sacred Bald Eagle feather with my old pagan paraphernalia, and an elegant goose quill with my calligraphy kit. But they were far too big and stiff for the hypersensitive being who lay there at my mercy. There was also a smaller, softer parrot feather; a souvenir of those heady days with my green friends at the old house. It would be just right to caress the dying form with gentle resiliency. For hours, as the baby lay perishing, I hovered remotely over him, stroking his piteously undeveloped body with the feather the way I longed to do with just one finger.
Now and then the baby bird accepted a few drops of water that I let trickle down my finger and into his pleading beak. That seemed noninvasive, and the poor thing was panting-- he could have heatstroke, on top of internal injuries. Once in a while, he let out a strangled-sounding chirp. I didn't speak his language, so I didn't know what he meant to say, but the effect was very sorrowfull.
I wept as I witnessed the suffering of the little bird, and I prayed-- prayers for the Time of Sickness and Death, the Rosary, and prayers to Saint Francis of Assisi. It was utterly beautifull to feel the presence of God there with the bird and me, but at the same time it was a heartwrenching nightmare to watch the baby struggling to extend his survival. Was I to pray for a speedy end to all his suffering? Or was I to pray for his life, with as much passion as he fought for it? If I showered the little bird with tears, maybe God would shower him with mercy.
It would take nothing less than a miracle, and God's will, to save the dying baby. The Truth shall set you free, and so I defined our situation: it was without hope. Now I was free to give myself in honest devotion to the woman who salvages lost causes: Saint Rita, The Patroness of Impossible Cases.
Holy Patroness of those in need, Saint Rita, your pleadings before your divine Lord are irresistible. For your lavishness in granting favors you have been called the Advocate of the Hopeless and even of the Impossible. You are so humble, so mortified, so patient, and so compassionate in love for your crucified Jesus that you can obtain from Him anything you ask if it is His Holy Will. Therefore, all confidently have recourse to you in the hope of comfort or relief.
Be propitious toward your supplicants and show your power with God on their behalf. Be generous with your favors now as you have been in so many wonderful cases for the greater glory of God, the spread of your devotion, and the consolation of those who trust in you.
We promise, if our petition is granted, to glorify you by making known your favor, and to bless you and sing your praises. Relying then on your merits and power before the Sacred Heart of Jesus, we ask of you--SAVE THIS LITTLE BIRD!
When it seemed Death, being God's Will, must be imminent, I instinctively picked up the bird, just to let him know that somebody warm was close by, and cared. Skin to skin, his bare breast on my left palm, I attempted to unite with the little bird in his suffering. Delicately I swaddled him into his little palm-nest with the handkerchief. Immediately, he showed me that was the right thing to do. Thank you God, thank you Jesus! Thank you Saint Rita.
Oh, it was such a mercy to be able to do something for the poor baby! And to feel that he wanted me to, in spite of my beastly nature, in spite of my sinfull humanity. I'd gratefully hold the bird all day long if God would see fit to let him live! I was ready to let the tiny creature become my first priority. Love and an abundance of attention would heal him. The more I held him, the better he would feel. And now I had the time-- all the time in the world these days, to hold the little bird until he recuperated.
* * * * *
In the old days, at the old house, I used to watch the parrots all day.
The parrots were so enchanting. They made Jerome and I feel honored, because they had chosen us. Their curiosity compelled the parrots to visit and they freely chose to do so day after day. The fascination was mutual and I looked a number of birds eye to eye many times.
It was always through the window, though. If I stepped out of the door, to the bird bells or the bird shelf, the parrots would fly off to higher branches. They were able to fly. But here I was having a close encounter of the third kind with this wild bird because he was paralyzed, basically; completely unable to do a single thing for himself. I recognized with deep humility that gazing into my eyes was a gigantically underestimated being, who could do nothing but lie there in the palm of my hand. I vowed to take care of Joe Bangles for the rest of his life, whatever it took. I was going to baby my Little Joe for the duration.
So now he had a name and I had a mission. The instant he became Little Joe, I became, of course, Mommy. We would be inseparable, if God, through the intercession of St. Rita, saw fit to let Little Joe live. I'd change the way I live, and the way I make my art-- no loud noises, chemicals, aerosols or solvents. No ranting, no rubber cement, no Spray Mount.
I knew he would grow up to be a clever fellow, like Thomas Jefferson's pet mockingbird, Dickie. But he'd probably be handicapped for life. I'd have to rig up different kinds of baskets and carriers for different occasions, and teach Little Joe to lie quietly when I had to take him out. Generally people should not know I have Little Joe. I couldn't trust the evil ones not to hurt him, and conversely the well-meaning do-gooders might try to take Little Joe away from me. I was afraid they would say our relationship was illegal, on account of his being a wild creature.
Little Joe began eating bits of raw hamburger. He took lots of naps, and slept beside me all night long in his tiny sleeping bag. The sleeping bag became a Snugli when he had to ride along to pick up Jerome from work, and Little Joe was a good traveler. I tried to add enriching activities to his short life. He loved to listen to mockingbird recordings and watch the ocilloscope dance to the bird songs.
On the third day Little Joe grew feathers. What a miracle to witness! My faith and hope were soaring now. My little baby was growing, not dying. I spent the remainder of the week in joyfull gratitude.
It came to pass on the seventh day that Little Joe died. That morning, he slipped out of his swaddling and jumped from my hand, something he'd never done before. In spite of the improvement in his condition, I didn't think he had it in him to be so vigorous. It was only 22 inches to the carpeted floor from where his final palm-nest rested on my knee. I picked him up for the last time and never let him go until he died quietly in my hand a couple hours later.
Part Two: The Wrong Choice
I must have been mad, I never knew what I had, until I threw it all away. I threw it all away...
--Bob Dylan, I Threw It All Away
When I held my first vigil over Little Joe, as he lay naked in the box on our dining room table, I felt the descent of the Holy Spirit. The unfinished baby who looked up to me for everything became my own aborted child. The humility I felt as I witnessed his valiant struggle made me feel as small as his heart was big.
He was fighting to live, just to live, in an alien world about which he knew nothing. Like our human babies do. In their perfect innocence they know nothing about what a tough world it is, how tragic, how cruel. They'll take it, these noble infants, no matter how difficult. I could see that size has nothing to do with courage. That is what my tiny teacher, Little Joe Bangles, taught me.
The most vulnerable among us, the unborn, truly have a will to survive that exceeds even the enormity of our sins. For abortion is a mortal sin, and that is one of those objective truths that exist even if you can't bring yourself to believe it.
I know how you feel, you women and girls out there, and the lies you have to tell yourselves. It's not a baby yet. Better never to be born into this world of woe. Or maybe, I can be like a doctor and make Life and Death decisions.
Yes, you have received the gift of Free Will, therefore you can make the wrong choices. That does not negate the fact that it is, or was, their turn to live. You are considering the termination, or already have terminated, the life of someone you should have been protecting. Someone more pure than you, perfect in their spirit of generosity. Some helpless tiny thing whose troubles are more dire than yours, but who still wants to live, only to live.
Don't take everything from them before they even get the chance to fight. I know all about your troubled worlds, the poverty, the fear and the bad dads. But it's not your place to end someone else's life, in spite of what our Godless culture tells us. God started something inside of you that is a miracle, and you just have to try to understand that. Watching a dying baby as it tries to cling to life with all its might will teach you that real quick, if you do it with an open heart.
You are one of God's children who may have been carefully schooled in the ways of Evil and Death, as I was. But you will be forgiven, if you just ask. And it is a matter of your eternal salvation, to ask, so be sure you do. God is there looking out for you and your children. He will be your guide through this Vale of Tears. We really have no choice but to take the tragic journey of our own free will. There will also be joy and lots of fulfillment along the way. And you will have fought the brave fight, and done what you're supposed to do, according to God's Plan. We can make it through this life together.
Be as courageous as those tiniest of soldiers. They look up to you. Please do what you're supposed to do and help protect them. Please join with me now in the crusade to protect life.
You can also sign the petition at Personhood USA here.
Here's another petition to defund Planned Parenthood from the American Center for Law and Justice.
Here is another petition you can sign: National ProLife Alliance.