The Heart of a Child
On Monday, Malachi, followed by four of his sisters, brought a female gold finch into my house. The beautiful bird was securely perched on Malachi’s index finger. They had been inspired by my taking in the turtle, Jordan, I think. Elena and Therese had found and rescued the injured finch. Being older, Malachi then took over from there. They decided on keeping the bird and taking care of it. Malachi speculated that the finch had a broken wing; at no point did she even attempt to fly. The gold finch was lovely, she exuded beauty. She was gentle in spirit, kind, patient, sweet, and innocent. She took her predicament in stride, calmly allowing us to touch her. Her feathers were not radiantly yellow, like a male counterpart, but the black on her wing was just as flashy. She was a muted yellow, soft in tone like her spirit. The smoothness of her feathers was incredible. Stroking her tiny back was mesmerizing for the softness of those feathers.
I had never touched a gold finch before, never sat so close. I often enjoy watching them at the bird feeders at Whitewater State Park, and at our own feeder. I like watching them perch precariously on thistle stalks to eat the seeds, as I walk in pastures. I have persuaded Jesse to leave a few thistles in the pastures on his farm for these precious little birds to feast upon. Excitement flows through me whenever I observe a gold finch about the farm. The bright, deep yellow of the male contrasting with the black wings is so stunning. Their sweet chirp is glorious music and a treat for listeners. To actually touch one of these romantic birds was thrilling, but in a quiet, gentle, reverent way. I reveled in the moment as I gently ran my finger down her back and chest, surrounded by my nieces and nephew who were in just as much awe and delight as I. That moment, all of us together beholding this gold finch, was so beautiful, so precious, so lovely, it stirred my heart. Amazing. Breathtaking even. I was having an impact on these children; they had been soaking up everything I had said to them about nature since they were babies. The seeds I so tenderly planted inside them, to love nature, were already beginning to sprout and grow. The knowledge that I was inspiring these children to love and cherish nature humbled me. Joy to have such wonderful and teachable children in my life fills me.
When we come across an injured animal it is tempting to pick it up and take it in. Should we leave it, allowing nature to run its course without interfering? Or should we take it in? Pour life back into it? You may prolong its life for a day or two or a few weeks, if you’re really lucky for a few more years. Which is more merciful, to allow it to die immediately or postpone death for a later date? Who is to say what is right, ethical? Is it better to allow the creature to die right away or allow it a little more time? As adults, we must ponder this thought. Sometimes we know it’s best to walk away, allow nature to run its course. We can assess how severe the damage is to the creature, whether or not there is hope; sometimes we step in. However, a child’s heart is too full of compassion, awe, wonder, love, fascination, and curiosity to just leave it. A child doesn’t ponder the great moral question of interfering with nature. There is a difference between children and adults. Children have more hope. They aren’t as disgusted by injured creatures, and perhaps that side of them should be nurtured instead of nixed by allowing them to act on the desire to take care of it. Often a child will scoop up the creature with their tender heart and bring it home to Mom, without weighing the issue. Mom is supposed to encourage these tender hearts without crushing their hopes or raising their expectations, it’s what the child expects from her. But she must gently caution them that their new pet may not survive for long and they can’t get too attached.
Perhaps I should have discouraged them from taking in this bird that probably wouldn’t make it, but they were so eager, so excited to take care of it and I remembered that feeling when I was their age. I begged Mom to allow us to take care of baby rabbits we rescued from a cat. She agreed but warned us that they probably wouldn’t live very long. Of course we were sad when they died shortly afterwards, however, I believe we learned something very valuable from the experience, something intangible. I also came across an injured robin when I was a child. Very gingerly, I scooped it into my hands. I held it for a long time as I sat in the grass, filled with a deep compassion for this dying bird whose death was coming slowly. I wanted to care for the bird, to fix and restore it to health, the desire to do so was strong. My heart was over flowing with love for something I just discovered. Yet I knew I couldn’t save it and reluctantly I placed it back in the grass, trying to make it as comfortable as I could. I can’t recall which happened first, the rabbits or the bird, but I do remember that burning desire to take the pain of these animals away, that I grieved for them. And yes, in ways that I can’t say nor perhaps understand these experiences impacted me and shaped who I am. I have retained that child heart, the concern and pain for suffering nature. I still carry the desire to fix what has been broken. I still have a deep love and connection to other creatures.
Therese was devastated when the bird died. Perhaps we didn’t prepare her well for that reality. Should we have said no to her keeping the bird, sparing her of these feelings of loss? I’m not so sure. However, I know she will remember that bird the rest of her life. It will shape her. It may affect the way she views nature. And it has given her affirmation that her heart is good, that it is big, and very open to the natural world. It may inspire her to have an interest in birds. Keep a bird feeder, set out bird houses, observe the birds she sees. Who knows how this stirring in her heart for a wild creature will impact her present and future interactions with nature. There is no doubt though, that the experience has had an impact even if it takes years for it to manifest.
Note: People certainly shouldn’t make pets out of wild animals that are not injured or impaired in any way and some animals are too close to death to help them. If the animal does survive and thrive becoming fully restored and healthy again, if it hasn’t been too habituated to being taken care of by people and knowing it could survive on its own, then the animal should be released back into the wild, in its natural habitat.