I noticed the feathers before he did, which was a good thing. Normally he doesn’t care about things that have already expired—his earnest heart wants the heady scent of delicate bird bones sheathed in wings, whisper-thin veins pumping transparent blood to a tiny, thumb-sized heart. That’s the smell he lunges for, not the decaying fetid stink of death—we both recoil from it. As we get closer the heap proves to be a blackbird, a crow, huddled under one of the oak trees and unnaturally still. You almost never see them dead. I’ve see lots of dead birds, and dying ones too, but never a crow—here, you don’t hunt them, and they’re too smart to get hit by cars or fly into windows. Or that’s what I thought. It’s hard to say what happened here, underneath the tree. Probably a car, I think, as we jog past. I see his wings half stretched, dull now even though the light of this morning has been nothing short of glorious (you know the kind of light--that shines through the trees, so the spidery veins of each perfectly tapered leaf show in their gentle strength, and it makes you stop in the middle of your run to take it in for a minute, because the world in her beauty, deserves appreciation though she doesn’t as for it—it was that kind of light) and the normally agile and curiously cocked head was twisted into the dirt, in a way that was so undignified it was clear that this clever bird was not in his right mind. We kept running—Cedar giving the bird only a cursory glance as we leave him behind. I take a different way home.
When I see a squirrel squished on the side of the road, a day or two later, the specter of the bird haunts me. It comes to the forefront from the back of the mind, twisted wings and dirty feathers, in the mud of a neighborhood I will probably never be able to live in. The deepest part of my heart wells up in a wave of dark sorrow and I am left a shuddering, weeping mess, an aching pillar of sadness. Were they just trying to cross the road, and then, suddenly, the infinite came to claim them?
This is not rational, I know. But here is my admission—every now and then, I cry for road kill because if, I think, I cried for the real things—proxy wars and drowning refugees, suicides and global warming, the pain of isolation and the pain of company we don’t love—I might never stop. To each of these, a part of the soul numbs to such excruciating pain, to the burden of compassion and our own humanity. But numbing is not the same as ignoring, or getting rid of; rather, I think we experience a transfer of emotion. The overwhelming nature of global strife can be paralyzing if we take it in one gulp, if we let each thing strike to our core. So I cry for the road kill, and let it come as it does.
For the rest, I do what I can. I listen to my mother—I obey that compassionate heart, rooter of all underdogs, as much as humanly possible—I remember the depths of my compassion. I work to practice gratitude, and I try to be kind, even when it is not returned. I believe in justice, and listening to the stories of victims, and helping whenever possible to settle conflict or to crusade if it’s on behalf of people unable to crusade for themselves. And I have faith—in the common binds of humanity and the greater kindness of the universe, and I pray to all the Gods above, that in the end, we find a way to take care of each other.