>Fragility: Look it up

>You can see a word endlessly and never notice it, until you look it up. Then as if by magic, it is ubiquitous and it seems as if there is numinous haze surrounding it, the equivalent of highlighting. Every book, every New Yorker article has the word: limn, palimpsest or numinous. And you say AHHHHHHH I know that word.

I feel that way about fragility. I know the word, I know how to recognize and note it in a few languages, as it is an important concept for packages, fruit, hearts and emotions. But until my recent close brush with death and the fragility of the human head and mind I didn’t take it in as a concept for my life, my family my tiny circle.

I had been blessed with little or no hospital time; my parents died very old, I am still (knock on wood) unbroken and although somewhat bowed I have not spent time with in the medical system or the realm of the fragile. I wrote last about the accident I witnessed where my daughter’s boy friend had a massive skateboard crash right under my nose. And since he is French and without his parents, we took to tending him. It is now a month and I have been unseated by all of this uncertainty.

I cringe when the car brakes, swerves or honks. I wept when I unearthed and cut up a snake with my weed-whacker and today there was another tumult of my fragile psyche. My husband found an upturned nest of baby birds in the barn. The nest was a badly made cup of mud and moss, it feel from the barn rafters and lay overturned on the workbench. I flipped it over and there were hatchlings, four of them mushed together in the cup.

I thought they were all dead and I looked at their featherless wings and wide translucent eyes and then they began to breath and chirp. They were still alive and I had to save them. But how? I could hear the mother outside frantic. Of course. It was her fault. She had built a bad nest, she had left them for food, she was too big for the nest, she had been idle and grown fat and lazy. She was a mother and she berated herself the way we all do. Even if she didn’t I could scold her and myself at the same time.

I picked up the crumbly cup of a nest and thought to put the babies in a shady clump of peonies, but then I recalled seeing my cats this morning run after anything that moved, peeped or chittered. So I returned the cup to the barn and my husband devised a makeshift holder for the nest. He inverted a metal clip lamp, I laid the nest into the lamp and we replaced it on the rafters.

Then I noticed that one bird had fallen out of the nest and was on the table. He too was still breathing but all twisted and bent. I thought he would undo the fragile balance we had established for the nest and I doubted he would make it. And so I made a triage decision and relegated him to die. But I couldn’t stand to let him suffer or be taken by a mean predator so I held him beneath the tail pipe of my husband’s less than ecologically correct, 1976 MGB sports car. And there the CO2 emissions sped him to the arms of the bird angels.

I had watched my father minister this release by the side of the road when he saw a badly hit porcupine or a mangled deer. We would stop; the kids had to wait in the car and my father got out. He always talked so calmly to the “critter” as he called him. He never feared animal retribution, as he was a wild thing himself and I often felt he was in his element releasing their spirits. That was the phrase he used, he was a spirit releaser, and I must have taken on some of that countenance because today when I held the tiny bird body in a paper towel under the blast of noxious air, I felt I had done a minor kindness.

I suppose I feel that all the tiny acts of goodness will heal me from the terror and the sense that awful things will come my way because I have looked up the word fragile in the dictionary of life and I keep reading it, seeing it everywhere.

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