Friday, June 12, 2009

A Short One

Last month as I was sitting in my car outside of the dollar store, I witnessed an accident. One car backed into another. The driver at fault was an older woman. The other driver was a woman in her twenties.

I cringed as I watched them get out of their cars: Cat fight a-comin'. They looked at each other, examined the minimal damage, and then spoke for a few more moments. My window was down and I could hear their conversation.

"Are you OK? "

"Are you? Is your car hurt?"

"Is yours? I am so sorry, dear."

"It's fine. I'm just glad everyone's OK. Are you OK to drive?"

"Oh yes, I'm fine. Thank you, dear."

Then instead of exchanging insurance information, they hugged, got in their cars, and drove away.

Friday, June 5, 2009

On Culling

The children scream down the hall, "MOM! THE CHICK IS DYING!" I rush to help.

A chick lays stretched out, a long twist of intestine protruding. He will die. Nothing I do can save him. Probably nothing anyone can do could save him. I cradle him in my palm and stroke him softly. He chirps an anxious dirge and arches against his agony. I stroke him back to a neutral position.

Poor baby. I should end his suffering, but I can't. Ways to kill him painlessly flit through my mind; I do nothing but stroke him softly. He arches again. My children's keening in the hall hurts my heart, so ask them to stop so their wailing is not the last sound the chick hears. The children weep their goodbyes.

Silence. Except for the heartless happy chirping of his brooder mates. A last arching. A final chirp. Death.

Oh crap.

What could I have done? Was it contagious? My online search reveals nothing. It's likely a birth injury or some kind of deformity. I should have culled him before his suffering became acute.

Monday morning, two more birds are drooping, their legs splayed in unhealthy directions. They will die. I should cull them.

Oh crap.

I'm not a farmer. I'm not a vet. I'm a mother, a doula: I cannot take life! They lay in my palm—again, sweet and helpless, dying. I must help them. I must. I prepare a small box, cuddle them together on the cloth and place them in the freezer.

Minutes later, I open the freezer door, whispering words, petting the doomed gently. I close it again. Then open it. I can feel their downy heads cooling, their breath slowing. I am doing the right thing. I am killing them. To reassure myself, I mentally replay the chick's death from the day before as I pet and soothe these two through their death. I am doing the right thing. Culling them. Saving them agony. I am doing the right thing.

That afternoon as my ten year old son lays gasping, awaiting an emergency appendectomy, I think of our dead chicks, of the one who suffered, of the two who chilled to death peacefully. I think of my son who would have been hours from death save for the surgeon. My mind wraps around the preciousness of his being, the beauty of him. I ponder the skill and technology being unleashed to save him. In a different era, he would have died. 

The irony digs at me. In the past two days, three lives have ended in the hands that now stroke my baby's head. This child will die too, but not today, not tomorrow. God willing, not within my lifetime.

When we return home again, we trade six of our Barred Rock chicks for six Buff Orpington chicks. It's a bad trade. One bird dies sometime in his first night within our home. Two more will die soon. I can see them fading, slowing, refusing to eat or drink. Steeling myself, I place the dying birds in a small box in the freezer and close the door. It is the merciful thing to do.

The miracle of my son's life in the face of death flashes in my memory as one of the birds peeps. I remove them from the freezer. They will not die by my hand. I'll not play God today. Today, I'll simply stand vigil, a witness to their suffering, powerless. Today, I will simply accept God's will.