Dealing With Death

I saw something at once so spectacularly sad and yet also profoundly joyful once, when I watched a sparrow die… I was at my job, working at a theme park. The sparrow had dive-bombed out of the heights, inexplicably, and struck a passing car of a rollercoaster as it whipped its loop 30 feet above our heads. My friend, a co-worker, stood in abject horror over the body while I found a pot of flowers and matter-of-factly placed them between the dead bird and park guests.

I surprised myself with this “show must go on” mentality, but I realized distracting the guests would be better than allowing them to mill about and stumble upon the tiny feathered tragedy, so I began to approach the nearest family and engaged them in conversation.

But that… isn’t ME… is it? It doesn’t SEEM like me- Id’ve bet cash money on being traumatized by this hollow-boned body, unable to keep a theme park smile on my face. I’m certain I would’ve insisted on burying the bird or DOOOOOING SOMETHING, but this Me Now seemed uncharacteristically pragmatic about death.

I asked if there was any chance any vets on property might be able to save it, and when the answer was a definite “no,” I moved on. No hope for the dead? Focus on the living. Make sure it doesn’t sadden anyone else.

Does this make me cold? Am I some sort of monster? I checked: no. And I have the last 3 years to thank for that- training in meditation, becoming in tune with my body and my own mortality. I’ve come close enough to death, exploring my own dark places, and I am changed by it, but for the good. After all- isn’t cooling the blade part of the process of forging steel? The sword doesn’t STAY cold- it stays sharp.

Like ashy residual fingers of mold flavor a cheese, a perspective on darkness enhances the light. Death has touched me, but it did not claim me. This isn’t colder- this is stronger. This is better.

I thought about this bird, this little palmful of bright Being. To a sparrow, surely a roller coaster is a metal deity- dipping and diving, relentlessly charging, never hesitating, fearing no hawk. This sparrow died touching the face of God. It died doing what it loved, and hopefully passed too quickly to register fear. Its last action in this world was flitting out of the sky to tilt at the most epic of windmills. It’s sad and beautiful at the same time, and my prayer for it, and us all, is that we should all be so lucky.

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About the author

Jaime Jessup