Recently Raymond and I were looking after some cats for Queensborough friends who were away on a trip. Not catsitting or anything; just checking in on the cats every day at their home, making sure their food and water supply was good, cleaning the littterbox when needed, and giving them some quality human-affection time. (Since they are lovely and friendly cats, and we love cats anyway, this was a very pleasant chore. Okay, except maybe for the litterbox part.)
Anyway, this evening I want to tell you a little story about something that happened on one of those cat-tending days. It was a poignant little interlude, and one that really opened my eyes about how things can be in the natural world. And also something that, I am sure, would never have happened to us in our previous big-city life.
Raymond was doing the cat-visiting duties on that particular evening, and the first order of business was to put back into the house for the night the one cat who spends his days out of doors. (Don’t worry! His shots are up to date and he, like the other cats in the household, has been neutered. So he doesn’t risk either rabies or progeny on his outdoor visits.)
This normally routine and brief task was seriously interrupted by a loud cacophony of birds. As Raymond looked up during his walk from the driveway to the front door, he saw two robins who were looking directly and him and shrieking. Non-stop. And looking down, he saw … a dead robin. Not a baby, but not too big. And clearly the robin had only just been killed – by Mr. Outdoor Cat himself, who doubtless (being innately a hunter, as all cats are) was feeling pretty proud of himself, though his air was matter-of-fact.
Suddenly the robins, clearly enraged at their loss, started dive-bombing both the cat and his minder. Seriously! Still shrieking at top volume! Raymond hurriedly put the cat inside, and grabbed a broom for protection on his way back out of the house. And that’s when he noticed that one of the birds, which had been holding a worm in its mouth when he went into the house, was still holding the worm in its mouth, even as it shrieked and dived. It seemed a pretty clear message:
“I was just about to feed my little one – and that monster killed it!
Murderer! Murderer! Murderer!”
How often do we stop and think that creatures in the world around us might have feelings, just like we do? That for every raccoon or chipmunk or turtle killed by cars on the roadway, for every bird killed by a cat or stolen from the nest by a predator bird, there are family members – mates, parents, maybe offspring – who, in their own way, feel the anger and sadness that we humans do when suddenly bereft?
Interestingly, the robin incident happened on a Sunday evening. That same morning, the gospel reading in church at St. Andrew’s United was Matthew 10:24-39, which contains the verse “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” It’s the text on which the old children’s hymn that you might have sung in Sunday school is based: “God sees the little sparrow fall;/it meets his tender view./If God so loves the little birds/I know he loves me too.”
The very visible and audible grief of the robins made me think of that verse and that hymn; and Raymond and I joined them in mourning for their poor fallen little bird.