For the fifth or sixth year in a row, my deck has become a haven for baby birds. We have had a phoebe nest under there for many years, her nursery built higher and higher each spring until this year I wonder how Mama manages to fit in under the boards.
This year, like last year, we also have a family of tiny robins who have hatched under the deck. Every morning when I pull up my bedroom shades, I see a couple of adult birds with mouths full of worms and beetles, standing along our fence and ready to fly to the kids with breakfast.
When I walk softly and carefully around to the back of the house, and peer up at the spiky little nests, I am filled with a sense of awe as I watch the impossibly tiny beaks opening and closing as they wait for the meal that they trust will be coming.
I love this time of year. I love the reminder that no matter what is happening in this deeply troubled human world, nature goes on and on. The robins don’t question the wisdom of reproduction; they simply follow their instincts. They sing, they mate, they nurture and they live.
I wish I had the same faith.
For humans like me, life seems to come in stages. At one moment we are the babies, dependent and faithful, secure in our nests and happy to wait for someone to feed us. In the next, we are expected to spread out inexperienced wings so that we can take to the sky and start our own journeys.
For birds, I imagine, this is a relatively simple process. They are born, they fledge, they find a mate and make a nest and repeat the process until death comes to take them off for a rest.
It isn’t so simple for us, though, is it?
I am at one of those “milestone” ages in the life of a human. The US government has decided that I have reached the level of “old human.” They have provided me with Medicare to take care of my expected old human ailments. My children are all grown up, with partners and nests and babies both planned and newly birthed.
If I were a bird, I’d be settled and secure and happy to perch on the fence. I’d be ready to let the seasons change and to die when my time came along.
Alas. I’m not a bird.
I’m only a human.
And I find myself perched on the edge of a new stage of life that leaves me both afraid and sad.
You see, unlike birds, we humans are filled with a sense of devotion to our parents that leaves us hopelessly tied to our pasts. It leaves us filled with dread and poignant sorrow as we watch our parents age into the next phase. It leaves us unprepared and insecure as we make the decisions that will shape the final days of those who have given us life.
We are not ready to make these choices. Nothing has prepared us for the need to feed and clothe and house our parents. Nothing has taught us how to bathe them and clean them and reassure them when they are confused.
The life of a human does not contain lessons on how to stop relying on the woman who advised us and supported us through our own long journeys into parenthood. It doesn’t set us up for the moment when we must admit to ourselves and to the world that our parent is no longer the one who holds the answers. It doesn’t show us how to embrace and support the generation before us even as we do our best to support the generations that have come after us.
I look up every morning at those tiny robin babies. I know that in only a week or so, they’ll be perched on the edge of that carefully crafted nest. I know that they will pull up those shaky wings and spread them toward the sky.
They’ll take a deep breath, I think, but they’ll know what to do.
They will fly.
I wish I could do the same. I wish I could find some kind of old-woman wings that would lift me gently over the deeply painful decision of where my Mom will spend the last days of her long life. I wish I knew how to fly out of this childhood nest, and how to fulfill my responsibilities as a human being to the one who gave me this life.
I stand on the edge of this next phase of life. But I am far too afraid to fly.