Our Lives, As Fragile As Wings

May 6, 2019

Last Tuesday I was taking our garbage cans back around the side of the house when I saw two baby birds on the ground.

One was already dead, and I thought the other one was, too. But I looked closer and it was breathing – too weak to stand, but breathing. It was a fledgling, not quite a newborn, not quite ready to fly.

It had been a long time since I had tried to save a baby bird. I got a shoebox and put a towel in it and set the bird in the box. Then I had to go to work. My wife was home that morning, and after I left, she called the vet. They told her to place it back in its nest and hope its mama came back.

It turns out there were three nests on that side of the house. We didn’t know which one it came from. Two of them were too high to reach. So she put the bird in the third one and we hoped for the best.

The same day we found the bird, about eight hours later, a student stood up in a classroom at UNC Charlotte and started shooting.

We haven’t talked about much else around here since. We’ve mourned the victims. We’ve argued about guns. We’ve praised Riley Howell, one of the two who died, because he went after the shooter, sacrificing himself to save others.

It’s a time for a lot of complicated thoughts. But I keep coming back to one simple thing: Life is so short, and not a single day is guaranteed.

Most of you listening to this are older than the students who were killed. We were all fledglings once, flailing in the grass, but we’ve survived. Sometimes that feels like incredible luck more than anything else.

My wife and I have some friends who are really struggling right now. We don’t have any brilliant advice for them – we talk, and ask questions, and hope something makes a difference. The main thing I tell myself in moments like the one they’re in is to keep breathing, stack up the days, do one small thing to feel better. It might not feel like it at the time, but just to be here is such a gift.

All week long I thought about that bird around the corner. I’ve been afraid to go look and see if it’s still there. Right now, after these last few days, I think I’d rather imagine. I’d rather imagine a place where we all get the luck of a long, full life, and every fledgling gets to fly.

Tommy Tomlinson’s On My Mind column normally runs every Monday on WFAE and WFAE.org. It represents his opinion, not the opinion of WFAE. You can respond to this column in the comments section below. You can also email Tommy at ttomlinson@wfae.org.