“There was a baby bird in your tree we took down,” explained the tree man, pointing to the ground at the side of my house. “It’s there in its nest.”
Tucked under the downspout and against the bricks was a nest that held a rather large, fluffy, baby bird. Its home had vanished into the tree chipper, its mother wouldn’t know where to find it, and night was falling. Thunder grumbled softly and the sky flashed Morse code that a storm was near. Humidity hung in the air, thick and uncomfortably sticky.
“What should I do with it?” I felt I should know but I didn’t.
It was clear the baby was a robin. It’s grayish-brown feathers filled the nest entirely, but it still looked too young to fly. Its little beak opened and closed expecting food.
“You can just leave it there for the night,” said the man. I sensed the attitude was to leave it in nature as close to its original home as possible.
I knew instantly I was not leaving this motherless, little baby robin alone on the ground where it was completely helpless and unprotected. It wouldn’t survive the night. Should I take it inside with me? Was there someplace else I could leave it outside? Even though I hadn’t held the chainsaw, I still had destroyed its home. Mama robin wouldn’t find it.
Ilene is my neighbor who also very conveniently is a vet. She was outside trying to get her lawn mowed before it stormed. Lightning flickered more regularly in the sky. I couldn’t wait much longer. It was getting dark and the baby bird still had nowhere to spend the night.
“Ilene! Do you have a second?” I shouted above the motor and motioned in my direction. She stopped the mower. “I have a baby bird here.”
We talked over the options. No, she could not take it. They didn’t work with rescue animals at her clinic. There was a vet clinic off the beltline on Rimrock Road that was open twenty-four hours and took wild animals. That was a possibility. Finally, we decided it was best to put the bird and its nest cradled on top of an abandoned nest in a bush to the side of my house. It had a better chance there than on the ground. With flashlight in hand, we safely nestled it in.
My next job was to dig up a couple of worms for it and try to feed it. Sweat rolled down my face and back. I couldn’t see where I was digging. Multiple holes were appearing in my garden and there was not a worm to be seen. Why was it so hard to find a dang worm? This was crazy. I was crazy.
After about ten minutes I abandoned the worm quest. Plan D was now in motion. I would take the bird to the vet clinic.
Flashlight in hand, I retrieved the baby robin, put it in a box, and placed it on the floor on the passenger side of the car. Tired and sweaty, off I went, hoping the thunderstorm wouldn’t hit until I returned home. My mother’s voice spoke quietly in my head, “Don’t go. Stay in for the night. You’ll get wet.” But my mother wasn’t around anymore. It was just shy of a month since she died, but she was still there chattering away at me.
I didn’t mind.
Keep in mind, I also didn’t listen.
I knew my actions were some type of response to feeling alone and a deep need to fix the unfixable.
Baby bird made some sounds. “Tweet, tweet.” What was it saying? I didn’t speak bird but decided to tweet back anyway. “Tweet, tweet, tweet,” I said.
The sky let loose torrents of water which made it tough to see the road. It was one of those downpours where you feel like you’re continuously under a waterfall and the windshield wipers can’t keep up. All this felt so insane on several levels. Tweeting back to the little bird was somehow comforting. We tweeted back and forth for the rest of the trip until I found the clinic.
I covered my little bird with my coat and ran the box into the clinic. I suspiciously eyed an orange cat that was sitting on a bench just inside the door licking its paw. A woman at the front desk smiled and took the bird to the back room. That was it, I was done. I headed back out into the stormy night.
When I got back and buckled up in my car, I realized I hadn’t said good-bye to my bird.
Yep, I heard it.
Somehow that little animal had become mine in a time span of less than an hour. Maybe it was mine the moment I saw it on the ground . . . I don’t know. But I did know I had to dash back through the rain into the clinic so I could say good-bye.
I’ve been this way for a long time. I’ve learned to be okay with it.
“I’m back,” I announced as I dripped in front of the receptionist.
Foolishly I added, “I didn’t get to say good-bye to my bird.”
She stared at me for a long moment before disappearing into the back room and returning with the robin.
“Bye, bye,” I said. “Be a good little bird.”
I felt I needed to add a few tweets in there to make sure it understood. I already felt foolish, so there was no point stopping. “Tweet, tweet . . . tweet, tweet.”
I think it understood.
Somehow, I think my mother did, too.
Two years ago, I saw an osprey on a warm summer day. It landed squarely on a small tree right in front of a window in my family room. There couldn’t have been more than six feet between us. It should not have been there at all because these birds like water areas filled with fish. A small pond is located a stone’s throw from my home, but I have never seen anyone fish there. Yet, there on a very obvious branch perched an osprey for me to see it. It got my attention. Right away, I knew it wasn’t a red-tailed hawk or a peregrine falcon. I had no clue what it was, but it edged closer to my window for me to observe for around twenty beautiful seconds. We stared at one another. Moments later it spread its wings and flew away. I grabbed my bird book and took to the internet to find out what I saw and what the sighting meant.
I learned ospreys submerge their entire head underwater when preying on fish. They symbolize that you can be very much out of your comfort zone (or usual environment) . . . and survive. These birds teach us to take risks, not be frightened to take risks, even if opportunities seem out of reach. Although all birds are messengers, ospreys bring awareness that an important message is on its way.
They remind us:
YOU are ready.
YOU are skilled.
YOU are fearless.
The rest is up to us.
Like the osprey, I have been very much out of my comfort zone and survived.
I have survived many things. I have survived chickenpox, many flu viruses, and other illnesses. I have survived bullying. I have survived airports and air travel. I have survived chemo and a myriad of other treatments and side effects. I have survived tornado warnings and personal emotional storms. I have survived the pain and grief that follows the passing of loved ones. I have survived many challenging students in the classroom, and they have also survived me. Surviving cancer is just one thing I’m living with and doing my best to survive. I am so many things, as we all are. Being a survivor is just one part of me. I’ve changed, but I call myself a survivor because I am still here.
Taking risks is part of living a fulfilling life. Some look at risks as adventures. Some thrive on danger. Some choices in life don’t seem to be choices, but rather the only choice you could make at any given time. I felt like this when choosing my first round of chemotherapy. I felt it again each time I needed to move on to another treatment regiment. It seemed I didn’t have much choice because the alternative was an outcome that wouldn’t work well for me. I feel like the past seven years have been an exercise in risk. Each treatment is a risk.
I’m risking my life in order to stay alive.
It’s hard. I get tired. And yet, I know I’m worth the risks I take. I want to be healthy and happy.
There is something missing. I’m so focused on staying well that I don’t have much time for anything else. The risks of sky diving or strolling by my lonesome through prime lion habitat don’t appeal to me. Developing a gambling addiction also isn’t the kind of risk I want.
On the one hand, I’m torn between not wanting to do anything, go anywhere, or see anyone who may put my health at risk. Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children for flu or preventable diseases could have life-threatening consequences for me. I must be over cautious. I can’t afford to take much risk in regards to my health. I am always going to base health decisions on scenarios with the lowest risk aligned with the greatest outcomes. Nothing is a sure thing. It all carries risk.
We all take risks in hopes of gaining a desired result.
But there’s the other hand. I don’t want to pass up chances to go out and have fun! I don’t want to put self-imposed limits on myself because I am unsure what I’m capable of achieving. I want to live with passion and purpose, to continue to learn and to lead, to change and to grow for the better.
There is some element of calculated risk in every choice we make. Some have bigger impacts than others. There are people who interpret risk as an opportunity, and others who see it as an assured failure. These are not the same people.
Taking risks has benefits. The most obvious, of course, is being rewarded with your goal. People who take risks are said to be more adaptable and they try more new things. They do not see failure as failure. Failure is an opportunity. They learn from these opportunities and bounce back more quickly compared to those who view unsuccessful risks as failures.
Risk-taking involves moving past fear in pursuit of what you want.
Fear prevents you from taking chances. Fear keeps you stuck. Life continues to happen if you choose to stay stuck – that’s still a choice. Taking a risk involves ignoring possible judgments from others. It may mean standing on your own, pushing past self-imposed boundaries, and doing something outside of your comfort zone. I don’t think it’s so much of a “no pain, no gain” philosophy. It’s more of an “if you always go with the flow, you never grow” mentality.
How might someone incorporate a little more risk into his or her life?
Pick a few from the list or come up with your own:
- Explore a new town.
- Ask for what you need.
- Sign up for a ropes course.
- Give someone new a chance.
- Take a class to develop an interest.
- Order something different at your usual restaurant.
- Write or talk about emotions you find hard to process.
- Ask more questions at your next medical appointment.
- Respectfully disagree if you are misrepresented on an issue.
- Share an honest opinion in a place where your view may not popular.
- Make an appointment with a therapist if you know you need extra support.
- Risk being rejected, turned down, the possibility of failure, or hearing NO.
- There’s always sky diving if that’s really something you need to do.
Sometimes the biggest risk we take is not taking one.
Back to the osprey.
My head is submerged most of the time as I keep exposing my body to ongoing treatment. I’m definitely out of my comfort zone. The outcome has surprised me. It is one more thing I have come to accept. The big risk with treatment is it may stop working. That risk is worth it to stay healthy. I’ve learned I can take these risks even when they frighten me down to my bones.
The opportunities I have to be healthy are not out of reach.
It is why I keep my head submerged.