I was staring at the motionless bird when with a rush of wings a second dove alighted beside it. I sat still, scarcely breathing, as the second bird pressed itself tight against the other and began a frenzied pecking at the ground. Tap, tap, tap with its sharp little beak. Get up! it seemed to be saying. Why don’t you move!
With a sudden shudder the fallen dove responded. As its partner’s tapping continued, it began beating the ground with its left wing. Faster and faster the wing flapped, till it flung the bird over onto its back. Now both wings flailed, battering the other dove which flew 20 feet away to the top of a railing. Arching, twisting, the struggling bird heaved itself back on its stomach, wings thrashing. “You can fly!” we urged it silently, its partner from the railing, I from the bench.
But with a final spasm the injured bird went still.
Did its partner know that it was dead? Or did it believe that the two might still soar together into the bright morning sky? It remained on the railing in unmoving vigil as five minutes passed. I sat still too, not to frighten it away. Ten minutes went by. Fifteen. How much longer might it have kept watch? An hour? A day? Doves, I knew, mate for life.
But a white terrier came yipping across the lawn and the waiting bird fled.
I stood up, the first movement I’d dared to make, gathered the warm little body in my hands and placed it beneath a shrub where later I’d dig a hole for it. I looked up at the apartments above me and saw what the bird had seen: in each window the perfect reflection of a cloudless blue sky, no slightest hint of danger.
All day I grieved, not just for that unsuspecting bird but for all bright young lives cut short in an instant. All the helpless whys pursued me.
This morning from the same bench I heard a mourning dove call. A common sound here, that plaintive oo-AH-oo-oo-oo. But today the wistful notes seemed to go on longer, and I imagined that it was the voice of that lonely partner. And listening, I knew that though we cannot know the why of untimely death, we can know what lifts it from the realm of cold, unfeeling chance. The little bird watching from the railing was part of a great web of connectedness that stretches from the least of us to the God who tells us that not even a sparrow – or a dove – can fall to the ground without his all-compassionate knowing.