What disturbs you can also be what teaches you the most memorable lessons.
A few days ago, I was working in my garden when I noticed a tiny bird on the ground just a few feet away from me. The bird was obviously too young to fly. It tried to walk, as if it was hoping to build up enough momentum to fly. But that momentum never came. The bird moved clumsily. Just a few inches at a time. No one to help. No skills to survive.
I showed him to my sons. They wanted to pet him. Four-year-olds don’t pet small birds. They squish them. I told my boys to stay away, hoping that the bird’s mom would somehow find him and take him back to their nest.
An hour later I was cutting the grass. I hadn’t given any other thoughts to that bird. Until I saw him again. This time he was not stranded in some woodpile. He was stranded in the grass. Right in front of my lawn mower.
I called my six-year-old over and spoke loudly in his ear so that he could hear me over the lawn mower’s engine.
“Go get your little plastic shovel and gently pick up that bird. Take him back to the woodpile so that maybe his mom will find him. Just be gentle.”
Minutes had passed and I finally saw my son emerge with his plastic, blue shovel. He had a determined look in his eye, like he was ready to do the right thing. He gently picked up the tiny bird. Just like I said. But when I said woodpile, he must have interpreted it as tree. He was just about to use his shovel to sling the baby bird high into a tree. Gently, of course. I stopped him just in time. Instead of throwing the bird, he sat the bird down where I told him. Gently.
With the exception of a few pointers, like don’t throw the baby bird in the tree hoping that he’ll stick, my son already knew what to do. I’ve never given either boy a lesson on what to do with abandoned baby birds. It just came natural. I like to think that it would for most people. Any person, I presume, would do the exact same thing if they were in our position. It’s one of those things that sets us apart from the animals. Another animal would have killed that bird. Not us. We saved it. It’s the human thing to do. The compassionate thing.
But what if that wasn’t a baby bird, helpless and abandoned by its mother in my backyard? What if it was a human baby that was abandoned? A baby that was born a little early. Maybe seven weeks early. Would the general consensus be to protect that child or would we be more concerned with the mother and her rights? Would there be a unanimous appeal to do whatever it takes to save that baby’s life? Suddenly, when the baby bird is replaced with a baby boy, the human race doesn’t seem so compassionate.
In our culture, saving an unwanted baby bird is the natural thing to do for most people. But killing an unwanted baby boy or girl is a booming industry. A government funded booming industry.
And that disturbs me.
But it also teaches me a lesson.
Maybe our culture, in spite of all of our technological advances and human rights initiatives, is really more barbaric than we would like to think.
Maybe we are more like the animals.