Wednesday was a great day. I got some really great news at work, I got to have a year-end celebration with some of my favorite students, and then I got to be on one film set as an actor, and then another as a collaborator. Pretty great, right? I mean, big picture, most days are just mundane. Any ONE of those things would have made for a great day. Satisfaction guaranteed…
Wednesday was also this: I didn’t get to see my kids. That sucks. While parenting is a real time warp where the days seem to never end but the years fly by, I genuinely don’t like when I feel like a figure that simply passes through their days sporadically. I don’t know if they see me like this, but I definitely feel like I see them twice a day in passing, giving light reprimands when they are required, but I’m basically an authority figure who makes them feel safe in short bursts. I feel like a live-in crossing guard.
Wednesday was also this: I was able to serve my wife by picking up our monthly glut of coconut milk that we get from the Asian market that’s on my way home, and we coordinated schedules regarding my visit to the chiropractor. We communicated details about upcoming events, relayed information regarding her degrading health, and I (probably insufficiently) expressed sincere sympathy for how hard it is for her to still run the home in her condition. It’s just where we are in life right now. Through no fault of her own, I sometimes feel like a live-in personal assistant.
Wednesday was also this: I had to hurry home to “take care” of a dead bird.
I had recently trimmed our tree in the front yard, and doing so had exposed years of overgrowth. The tree hadn’t been taken care of properly, so I’d slowly hacked back the branches that were choking each other out. Also—and I’m not your stereotypical lawn nut, but I’m starting to see how those guys get that way—the tree was killing my grass. Lawns are the final point of competition with nature for suburban middle class men, and I’m losing it badly. So, I trimmed the tree! And that exposed a dove’s nest. Which was made unstable by my horticultural hack-job. Which, during the rain storm that night, dumped a poor baby dove to the ground.
Ginny and the boys had seen it and wanted to do something about it. She knew you typically aren’t supposed to touch wild animals because it could lead to the parent smelling human and refusing to care for the baby any more. She called a bird rescue hotline, and was basically given a tongue lashing for trimming the tree and a lecture about how the number she looked up online was the incorrect number. She should have looked up the correct one online. Good call, government employee. Good call. The boys prayed for the bird, and went to bed.
She ended up calling me late last night to ask if I could bury the dead baby bird so the boys didn’t see it in the morning.
Crossing-guard-personal-assistant-guy to the rescue!
Now, there’s a lot going on here. I’d been at work overseeing a student film shoot, so I didn’t even get home until 1 AM. I need to take care of the litter box and take care of this bird, so I don’t exactly want to dilly dally. I get a spade from the garage and head out. Then I go back and get a flashlight because I don’t want to accidentally step on this bird’s carcass. That’d wreck my shoes, my day, and, frankly, this bird has had a bad enough day as it was. I’m lighting each individual step so as not to create dove pâté. I find the bird. Super dead.
Ok, now where to plant this poor sucker. As I’m hastily digging a shallow grave in my front yard flowerbed in the dark in the middle of the night, I get this subtle, inescapable feeling that I’m committing a crime. I mean, who else digs shallow graves in the dark at 1AM? Hand-rubbing, mask-wearing, evil-eyed criminals, that’s who! I go over to scoop up the poor little dove, and the wet, matted feathers, the tiny beak, and the delicate claws all look so…pathetic. It’s SO dead! No mother dove is hanging around mourning the dead baby. No news truck pulls up. Heck, my kids won’t even know this happened. He’ll simply be…gone. I flop the limp body into the dirt with a moist thump. Two scrapes of dirt over it, and then I stomp it down with my foot.
That’s when it hits me. As I pull my foot back from the dirt to reveal the waffled shoeprint on the crappy, silty swamp-dirt that is this impromptu burial plot I think, “Aren’t two sparrows sold for only a penny? But your Father knows when any one of them falls to the ground. Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don’t be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows.”
Wow. Well, I would certainly hope so.
Here lies the rotted, pathetic carcass of a poor creature with no marker to remember it by. It made very little impact on the world, and in just a few minutes it will be completely forgotten. In fact, that’s entirely the point of the unceremonious ceremony I’m taking part in…to help my kids forget it ever was. It will be like it never existed.
And that is exactly what happens to us.
Well, not exactly, but close enough. I’ll be buried a little deeper and, hopefully, not so late at night. But we create ceremonies, monuments carved of stone, and even family lines to try to not be forgotten. We want to mean something. We want to have made an impact. But, honestly, when all is said and done, I’ll end up exactly like that poor little bird. Another image that flashes before me in that moment is of some of the tomb stones we’d seen in Ireland when Ginny and I traveled there years ago. Memorials designed to create legacy, now too weathered to even read, lean haphazardly or are obscured by wild growth. No one remembers those people. It’s like they never existed.
So, there I stand semi-covertly on my dying lawn—shovel in one hand and flashlight in the other—contemplating my own meaningless mortality and inane legacy. How does anyone move forward knowing that at some point, probably sooner rather than later, we will receive a cosmic foot-stomp in a too-shallow hole where our wet pathetic carcass will slowly turn into swamp dirt? Luckily, I’m worth more than a lot of sparrows.
God loves me, and has a relationship with me. He doesn’t promise a great life. He doesn’t promise an eternal legacy. He doesn’t promise ease, comfort, happiness, or wealth either, and anyone who tells you otherwise hasn’t yet had to bury a dead infant dove. He does promise hope for today, but paradise in an eternity somewhere else. Life isn’t meaningless, but once it’s done it’s done. He whispered to my soul right there, “So don’t worry about it.”
He’s right, you know. We will all die, and we will be forgotten so we should stop trying to live like we won’t. You have people in your life right now who want you to be more than a crossing guard or a personal assistant. The inevitable doesn’t require anything from you, but the present does. You will have what is, in the big picture of the universe, a silent, meaningless burial, so you might as well have a great day today. There should be a fantastic release from your present troubles if you can actually embrace the smallness of your role in the cosmos and the largeness of your role in the lives of the people around you. Very few people lay on their deathbeds wishing they'd spent more time at work.
Jesse is a professor at Houston Baptist University. He also directs the school's theatre club, does handyman projects on the side, and produces features and short films. A Pastor's kid/missionary kid, his view of life is at the very least unique. And hopefully helpful.