Remember childhood at the end of the school year? the closing chapter of spring and its restlessness, the beginning of warm summer nights of playing outside? remember attending funerals for birds? wait. what? that’s right, my children attended a bird funeral last week. They invited me, so naturally I had to say yes.
For the past month or so, we have watched our boys playing with the neighbor girls, circling around a nest perched on top of a small lamppost in their front yard. At first, the nest was empty. The leaves had just started coming back onto the trees and the kids all watched as a robin gathered old twigs that had broken off in the winter time, and patched them together like a bird Jenga game to make a perfectly round, hollow home. Next thing we knew, word on the street was the robin had laid eggs: four beautiful blue ones with light brown flecks. She was guarding them night and day, protecting them from predators or small children who might want to make an omelet on the sidewalk as summer came storming at us.
And then, just as everyone was starting to forget about the presence of the nest, little cheeping sounds could be heard coming from it. we all marveled as beaks opened wide and little bird heads bobbed, waiting for worm meals and the warm feathers of their mother. We got so used to the presence of these lovely little babies we almost forgot what would happen next.
On a Tuesday at the end of May, just as the light was starting to change from spring to summer and the children were beginning to clean out their desks of used, dull, dirty pencils and old tests shoved way back inside, the birds leapt out. The neighbor girls exclaimed,
“the birds are out! they are out for their first flight!!!”
The littlest girl climbed up on top of the lamppost the robins had called home for the past few weeks. Three birds had taken flight, but the kids all remembered seeing four eggs. As she monkey-climbed her way to the top, she saw that their fears were confirmed. The first three birds, Flap, Hog, and Pip, had taken flight. The last of the robins, Flutter, had not. Flutter had passed away.
And so the children did what they must to honor the memory of dear Flutter, a little life that had not taken flight. They found a flat stone from the ground, a black sharpie from inside, and their mother’s garden shovel. Someone dug a hole in the ground, right under the lamppost, another one penned the inscription on the headstone, and the others prepared their hearts in somber silence. And with the bird in the ground, and the headstone firmly pressed in place, they knelt down, bowed their heads, and had a moment of silence for Flutter. I don’t know what they prayed or thought to themselves in that moment, but I know it was a beautiful gift to witness their innocence. I covered my mouth with one hand thinking, “oh my gosh. this is real to them. they are really experiencing this moment!”
Just as quickly as they had entered into the solemnity, their heads were lifted, their eyes darting around and their bodies energized once again, “THERE’S PIP!” And they were right. Pip’s first flight had turned out to be more a first flight-slash-hop. So they chased him around the neighbor’s yard and porch and under the bushes and then they spent the rest of the light of that day searching the neighborhood for the others and planning on who would be bringing flowers the next day to lay at the grave.