Wednesday, July 8, 2015

A Simple Life

I feel as if this summer has just begun, and at the same time I feel that it has been extremely full of adventures and love already. Just after school ended, I was able to be with my family in NM and celebrate my sister and brother-in-law's renewal of vows. The Christian ceremony was beautiful and it was great to see so much family in one place. The day after, I traveled to Holly, MI where my community hosts Seeds of Hope, an annual leadership conference for young women from our four Felician high schools. I had the opportunity to serve the young ladies behind the scenes, but also found time to laugh with them and play a few outdoor games when the weather permitted. At the end of the week I drove to Canada with Sister Maria Louise and two students who had attended the program. I stayed there a few days and had a great time. Sister Maria Louise and I watched lots of movies at home since 1) we both thoroughly enjoy watching movies and 2) it rained during most of my time there. We also painted some lady bug pet rocks for ourselves and visited the majestic Niagara Falls when God granted us a sunny day. Straight
from Canada I traveled to Chicago where I spent almost a week with Sister Heather. We walked Nala, the 2-year-old Weimaraner pup who has a mind of her own, twice a day, every day. I actually kind of miss the exercise, but we did a few other things besides dog sit. We went on a picnic, braved the traffic for some ice cream, and even found time to wash the car.

As much as I enjoyed every moment mentioned above, as well as all the moments in between, it was my departure from Chicago that sent me down an unexpected and profound path. The morning of my departure, I decided to go out the backdoor. The Sisters don't have a recycle bin, but their neighbors do, so rather than throw my plastic bottles in the trash I figured the neighbors wouldn't mind a few extra bottles in their recycle bin. Well, I stepped outside to a very sad sight: two baby birds on the cement steps next to each other, fallen from their nest above the door. They were so young that neither of them had any feathers. To my surprise, one of them had survived the fall. I called Sister Heather over and she thought perhaps we could get it back into the nest. She brought me a step ladder, so I picked up the little bird and climbed up, but it was no use. The nest was too high. I was running out of time, but she thought maybe a phone book would add some height and so she brought that over too. Placing it on the step ladder I tried again, but the nest was still too far out of reach. Being the 4th of July, I knew that any wildlife refuge center would be closed. I didn't know what else to do, so I figured, "If it's going to die, I can at least give it a soft and warm place to be in the meantime." I resolved to sneak it onto the flight with me.

I had a nice fuzzy sweater on hand so I gently placed the little bird inside the pocket and we left for the airport. During the drive my mind was working overtime to try and figure out how I would actually pull this off. "Should I try to wear the sweater through security?" I wondered. "No," I thought, "They'll see something in the pocket and I could get caught." As you know, my options were very limited. "Ok," I decided, "I'm going to leave her in the pocket and place the sweater in the bin that goes through the scanner. Maybe they'll see her, but maybe it'll just seem so odd that they won't say anything." I said goodbye as Sister Heather dropped me off, and I eventually made my way to security. My heart was pounding as I stood in line. "What if this doesn't work? What if they find her and take her? What would they do with her, throw her away?" The suspense at what might happen had me so nervous I even thought that perhaps the body scanners were possibly able to detect a person's heart rate so they could tell whether or not someone was trying to hide something. "If that's the case," I thought, "I better calm down or they'll know something's up! Just breathe.." I stared at my sweater as it slowly traveled along the conveyor belt. "Please don't beep, please don't beep.. If there's no beep then everything's fine.. Please don't beep." I stepped through the body scanner, watched my bag come out the other side, and then my sweater.. No beep! The little bird made it through security after all. I grabbed my belongings and headed to my gate.

I had brought a plum and banana with me, so I figured some mashed banana might be an ok snack for my new travel companion. I must say that feeding her was one of the most exciting aspects of caring for the little creature. She would open her beak, which was still soft around the edges, and chirp with her tiny tongue sticking out. Her neck was still so weak that her head would wobble all over the place and I'd have to try to hold her steady as she searched for the food on the tip of my pinky. Now that I had time to look up more details about baby birds on my phone, I checked to see how I might be able to best care for her during what I figured were the last hours of her life. We had about an hour left before boarding, a four hour flight to Sacramento, a two hour layover, and a final one hour flight from Sacramento to Ontario. I wasn't sure how long she'd last, but I wanted to make her as comfortable as possible.

I discovered that birds her size needed to be fed about every ten minutes from sunrise to 10:00 p.m. I fed her as much banana as I could while we waited for the plane, but once we boarded and took off, her appetite diminished. After about two hours, she only slept and was no longer moving around as energetically as before. By now the woman next to me had discovered why I was putting banana into my pocket and we started to chat. She told me about a son who was in prison and struggling with a drug addiction. "When I saw your crucifix," she said, "I just started praying." She told me she hadn't been to church in a while, but that she believed it would be best for her and her son if she started going again. In between stories, we would check on our little bird and both express how much we wanted her to live. At one point I was able to give the little one some banana and the woman marveled at the sight. "She's in good hands," she said with a smile. As we got ready to land, we discovered that we were both on the next flight together.

As we waited, I decided the bird needed something more than banana to eat. Besides, it was getting her all sticky and I had to pat her down with a damp paper towel to free her legs from the sides of her belly. "Perhaps avocado," I thought, and so the search began. I found a little string of restaurants near our gate and purchased a single avocado from a burger joint. As I was walking past a pizza place I heard someone call out, "Excuse me!" I turned to see a young woman about my age looking at me from behind the counter. "Excuse me," she said again, "Can I talk to you? Do you have some time?" "Of course," I said, and I walked over as she pushed some condiments out of the way. "Can you pray for me?" she asked. "Can you pray that I find peace and happiness? I struggle with anger." I talked with her for a moment and then we prayed right there together. She kindly offered to refill the water bottle I had in my hand and I returned to my gate. Unfortunately my little pal didn't eat much more, but she was still breathing. The woman and I kept checking to see that her little rib cage was expanding and contracting regularly.

When we boarded the plane we sat together again and were joined by a smiling 14-year-old girl. We decided to show her the little treasure in my sweater pocket and the three of us had a great conversation all the way into Ontario. Both of them declared that it was the first time they had ever sat next to a nun. The young girl said, "You're nice. I thought they were all mean like they show in the movies." We laughed and talked about more serious issues too, such as divorce and difficult family situations. We occasionally checked on our precious cargo and were relieved each time to see that she was still breathing. We weren't certain of her future, but we were all really hoping she'd survive.

My dear little featherless friend lived only about one hour after my arrival home. I was
surprised she had even made it that far, but I was disappointed to have to let her go. I buried her in our backyard and put a small cross on top of the spot where she is. In honor of Padre Pio and at the suggestion of one of my former students (Rio Mendez), I named her Pia.

Pia was a part of my journey for a mere matter of hours, yet her simple life allowed me to touch the lives of others with whom I likely wouldn't have spoken otherwise. Caring for this little bird caused a sort of domino effect and led to conversations that may change the course of many lives forever. Who knows, maybe the woman I sat next to will start going to church regularly and through a renewed relationship with God may inspire her son to seek a path of healing. Or perhaps the young woman I prayed with will find the peace she seeks and in return give glory to God by helping lead others out of their struggle with anger. Or maybe the 14-year-old who never knew religious sisters were nice will open her heart to discerning a vocation to the religious life. The pssibilities are endless, as are the mysterious ways in which God works. Pia was just a little bird fighting for life on the steps of a convent; but no life, no matter how simple, is ever without purpose.

*As a side note, here is a link which explains what you should do if you ever find a baby bird fallen out of its nest.