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The Proximity of Death

by Arnold Hollander

Dusk was falling and I had moved our garbage cans to the curb for the morning collection. I was walking up our driveway when Barbara ran out from our backyard. She frantically called to me to return there with her. Seeing her upset spurred me to hurry and find the cause.

Partially hidden by the fronds of a maiden grass plant was a robin. It was on the ground as if ready to take off but was not moving. I bent near it but it did not seem to sense my presence. My touch on its back feathers did not disturb it. I could see it was breathing and that its breath was labored.

I gently grasped it around its body and lifted it up to see what caused this distress. Nothing was visible, no wound of any kind; the legs moved weakly and its eyes occasionally blinked. I returned it to its position on the ground and it tried to move first on one side, then the other, but its progress was limited. It opened its beak and let out a screech at the same time.

The breathing that was so visible moments before just stopped. Its tail feathers suddenly expanded, then quickly collapsed. Barbara was crying. Through misted eyes, I hurried to our garage for a bag to house the body.

Later that evening we saw on television the bodies of children killed by bombings in a distant land. We did not cry over that.

Have we become so desensitized by the bombardment of images of sudden death around the globe that we seem unmoved by further such images, yet being present at the death of a little bird brings our emotions to the fore? Perhaps it is a reminder of our own mortality, or maybe it is the proximity of death.

Copyright © 2009 by Arnold Hollander

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