the cosmic lottery
Hello. This post is about Death & Birds
During the spring, at the rescue centre, an entire nest will sometimes come in after being disturbed. Often there’ll be four, five, even six tiny little featherless hatchlings, eyes yet to open. They’re kept in incubators, and are taken out every twenty minutes to be fed, usually from the tip of a small, artists paintbrush. Sometimes, due to their eyes still being closed, the hatchlings won’t know we’re there, ready to feed them—so we have to whistle. After a few high pitched tweets, as close to Bird song as we can manage, each tiny beak will gape open in unison, heads bobbing around on the skinniest of necks.
This act of whistling at hatchlings, a clunky but effective attempt at speaking their language, prompted a stirring in me which I couldn’t label, initially. As it grew, though, I was eventually able to identify this new sensation which the Birds had kindly given me—I felt at home. It is a remarkable thing, to feel at home in the world, if you do I congratulate you. If you don’t, I encourage you to seek out friendship with any winged being, so that you might come to realise that you belong to this place, in the same way that they do.
We’ve been away for a few days, in Winchester, celebrating our anniversary. We spent most of our time there hanging out in the cathedral, because it’s gorgeous, and it’s a thousand years old—and there’s something about being in a thousand year old building that puts everything into perspective. I’ve written before about my first time there, about discovering how, in 1642, the cathedral’s vast stained glass window was smashed to pieces by rebel soldiers who hurled the bones of kings and queens at the glass. (“Finally, a use for the royal family”, I hear David mumble).
We stroll through the Winchester Christmas market, which offers an avalanche of things we don’t need. As we navigate the crowds I catch the eye of a Spaniel, sitting very obediently next to his person. I smile at him and he, knowing exactly what’s about to happen, begins to wag his tail. I make my way towards him and the tail wag becomes a full-body-wag, before I kneel down and we meet like old friends—me smoothing his long ears and scruffing his chest while he writhes in appreciation. “Oh, you’re so good, you’re such a good boy,” I repeat, earnestly, before eventually standing up and thanking his human.
At lunch, we sit at the window of our favourite cafe, facing onto the street, watching the world go by. A woman holding a very new baby sits down outside, along with her little girl who is maybe two or three years old. The little girl is taking everyone and everything in through oversized eyes. Said eyes land on David and I and stop there for a minute, before we break the fourth wall and wave at her—an act which she finds hilarious, and generously returns. The blessing of these wordless recognitions reminds me why it is that I so love being alive.
Back inside the cathedral I learn that there is a wooden chest which contains the bones of a king who died in 632, there. 1,391 years ago. Positioned on top of a 20 foot wall, it is easily missed, and most people do not look up (we must all look up). I spent some time sitting quietly in the little chapel nearby, as part of me tried to identify what it is that feels so good about places that are old and, even better, old and filled with bones. I feel a little strange admitting to the great sense of peace I feel when among those laid to rest, but there it is.
I think it has something to do with the fact that being among the dead offers me irrefutable proof that I am alive. I believe there to be multiple layers to the acceptance of our aliveness, and I think that we typically float somewhere near the surface of them—partly out of necessity. Swimming deeply in the realisation of our aliveness is impractical, done too frequently. Those depths are overwhelming. The barometric pressure of the exquisite potentiality held within every single moment of existence—and the responsibility which that implies—could easily crush us.
I often wonder what this being human means. What it necessitates. What is it that I owe those 150 billion members of my human family who have already lived, and already died? Perhaps it’s this. Perhaps it is occasionally taking the time to actively allow the truth of my existence to fully hit me. To recognise that this is it, in all its heartbreaking, baffling and beautiful complexity, this is it—and it cannot, will not, last.
We walk along the river Itchen, and there’s been a lot of rain, so the current is strong. Two Swans take off from about 15 feet in front of us and are head height as they pass. The immense force of their beating wings pushes a burst of air towards us, stopping us in our tracks, reminding us that we are alive. Further down the path, tragedy strikes as I stand on a snail. I wonder whether there’s a Japanese, or perhaps German, word which cleverly captures the sinking feeling which follows accidentally killing something very small. I’m not particularly big, as humans go, but that feeling makes me detest the seemingly giant, lumbering nature of my physical self.
I think about the Song Thrush which I released in the garden, earlier in the year. She had done much of her growing up in the rescue centre, and I’d grown awfully fond of her. Apparently liking the garden, she opted to stay, and she took to bringing snails that she’d foraged to the stone slabs at the front of my little garden office to smash their shells against before eating them. The sharp, rhythmic tapping sound of shell against stone never failed to make me smile. I felt so proud of her. I suppose context is everything.
In a shop on the back lanes we buy some actual Christmas decorations. I say ‘actual’ because our tree is fairly pagan, the decorations on it are woodland creatures, Birds, mushrooms and Dolly Parton. While in the store I see a David Bowie print and I think, momentarily, about buying it for my friend Daniel—but Daniel died some 548 days ago now, so he’d have nowhere to put it.
I am amazed that my brain, even now, occasionally lets me believe that he is at home, writing Christmas cards and thinking that he’ll call me later. Hit by a heartache best described as violent, I walk outside, into the cold. Rubbing my hands together, I notice the lack of sensation on half of my left hand—an echo of a time when I tried, and thankfully failed, to permanently leave the world. Long before I had learned how to love it well.
David walks out of the shop behind me, singing “Have yourself a merry little Biscuit…” (my nickname is Biscuit, he only ever calls me Chloe if he’s really upset with me). I don’t know how it is that we came to be here, he and I, or any of us. The odds against it happening were colossal. I suppose we won the cosmic lottery.
All love, friends. And to those who celebrate, have yourselves a merry little Biscuit.
Yours in aimless flight,