Philosophical Musings:

Looking into the Face of Death

�The day you were born,
everybody was happy � you cried alone.
Make your life such, that in your last hour
all others are weeping, and you are the only one
without a tear to shed!
Then you shall calmly face death, whenever it comes."

Ann de Montmorency, From: The Reader's Digest Quotations

I have basically been a city dweller for most of my life; now in my senior years, I have found a small property in a country setting as my new home. Small and somewhat secluded, it affords me a new view of life; not so much an end, but perhaps a new beginning.

Becoming a country dweller at my age was not easy; like the old TV show �Green Acres� I am the �city slicker� newly pitted against a somewhat novel �earthy� environment.

And even new neighbors are to be met with; new kinds of neighbors that is; animal neighbors, to be exact. And many, and varied, are they, to be sure! Somewhat troubling ones at first: mice in the cellar and kitchen; ground hogs under the shed; insects and more insects� ugh; raccoons in the chimney, or what use to be the chimney; and birds, all kinds of birds, sparrows, woodpeckers, blackbirds, oriels, cardinals and the ubiquitous Robbins with their red breasts; even bats swooping through the twilight sky, sounding their screechy sonar warnings. What a different breed from the human city dwellers, I was so use to!

The first two years was the battle to find out who would be the boss! I finally staked out our territories, theirs and mine; man over Nature, literally! Finally the equilibrium settled in, and we were at harmony, and peace. I had adapted!

One morning I was making some alterations to the rear shed door, hot in the pursuit of the carpenter�s trade, when I happened to look down. Not two feet from me was a small speckled bird; just standing there silent and serene. A little later I finished my chore, and lo, he was still there, a piebald statue at attention with funny black eyes, frozen and cold. I started walking towards him; sure he would flutter up all at once, as his kind always did at the approach of a human. But he didn�t! I nearly stepped on him, still no movement! How strange! There was no fear; nothing; only those cold unmoving eyes.

I moved closer, and bent over to have a better look. He moved suddenly, only a step; but not away, but towards me! And what a movement, a pathetic faltering wobble with a limp. Now I understood, he was wounded, mortally wounded; one wing broken and the chest beneath shattered. He had come there to die. I instinctively moved back from him, to give him more room. I looked into his eyes, and found the courage of death there; the courage of those with nothing more to lose.

I quickly ran over to the porch, to a small shallow bowl I had there, and filled it with water. I set it down close to him, thinking, he might thirst. He surprised me, and jumped into the bowl, with a tremulous leap. He fell in the water and drank a little, then pulled himself into a hobbled stance. It had seemed to refresh him. He looked at me, as if to signal his thanks. He stumbled forward, as if with a last summoning of all his strength, left the bowl, and hobbled forward and fell face down in the grass. He was dead. I could see his small legs stiffened in rigor. He had died nobly, with a distinct dignity.

I looked at him and wondered; I would leave him there. This was his place, to begin his new life; the metamorphosis back into that from which he came. Already the flies began to fall on him. This noble creature, had staked out his own memorial place; the least I could do was let him find his way home there.

As the days passed he began to disappear back into the earth. In a mere week he was gone, the change irredeemably made; and his purpose on earth renewed in the endless cycle of Nature. I could not but wonder how fortunate I was to witness this remarkably noble transformation of this tiny creature. I had looked into the face of death and had seen its essence and nobility. Death was not an end, but a new and glorious beginning; an adventure that even this tiny creature appreciated and respected.



Originally Published:

October 11, 2007


January 2, 2014