Arts & Culture


A baby bird fell out of a tree and landed in my friend Felicia’s backyard two weeks ago.  She was watering her plants and had let the dog out and saw what she thought was a dead bird.  Actually, she … Read More

By / June 3, 2009

A baby bird fell out of a tree and landed in my friend Felicia’s backyard two weeks ago.  She was watering her plants and had let the dog out and saw what she thought was a dead bird.  Actually, she figured the dog had chomped it to death.  But it was warm, so she brought it inside.  "I took a teaspoon and dribbled some water into the side of its mouth, and then after a few dribbles – or maybe I was drowning it – its beak went up and down, and its eyes opened and it shook its head.  I put the towel around it and kept it warm on my lap while I did other things.  It wasn’t trying to make a getaway.  Then, maybe an hour later, it got up and it could stand but it definitely couldn’t fly."

She returned the bird to the backyard and fed it moistened dog food. Over the next few days, she  watched as the bird started flying up onto a chair or on the ivy.  The mother bird would come down with things in her mouth to feed the baby, and if Felicia was around, she would cheep furiously.  When the bird finally flew away, Felicia called to say she was sad, even though she knew it had to leave.  "It’s kind of miraculous, you know," I told her, "that you found the bird and got her in shape so she could eventually leave." 

I thought about miracles and remembered a medieval philosophy class I took in college in which we discussed and debated the idea of miracles.  (As if we were going to come to some consensus on it.)  At issue, really, was the nature of God: if there are laws in this universe, can God usurp those laws or is God subject to them, too?  If God cannot usurp the law of gravity, for example, then is God truly Omnipotent?  And if God can, then maybe it’s not a law, and therefore it might not be a miracle.  It’s simply something we don’t yet understand.  

It was all quite an academic conversation, and there was no satisfactory conclusion, of course, but since then, I’ve come to revise my idea of miracles.  Some may call it serendipity or luck or whatever, but now and again things happen and you say, you know, that was truly miraculous.  Not necessarily miraculous like the ten plagues or parting the Red Sea, things that might defy nature, but miraculous, as if God had planted someone in your path at exactly the right moment.  

Fifteen years ago, when my oldest son was in kindergarten, we were leaving the house from the top of our stoop. He was going to ride to school on his bicycle, so as he went down the stairs, I was multi-tasking and locking the door while holding the bike back with my foot. This time, the bicycle escaped, and went bouncing down the stairs into the path of my son.  It happened so fast that there was no time to scream, or to grab the bicycle, but not so fast that I didn’t see in a flash that the bicycle was going to hit him on the back, that he would fly through the air and crash on the sidewalk below.  I watched as the bike hit, he flew through the air, but then a rather disreputable looking guy whom I’d noticed when we’d walked out the door, reached out and plucked my son from the air.  I raced down the stairs to my son. I think I thanked the guy profusely, but I wasn’t looking at him at all, of course-I was looking down, trying to see if there was any damage to my son. When I did look up, our unexpected hero was gone. 

I know, I know: if God wants to perform a miracle, maybe Darfur would be a good place to start, not a kid falling the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  I agree.  And granted, within the scope of the bigger world of splendid, the-sun-stands-still miracles, Felicia’s rescue of the bird and my son avoiding dental work and broken bones and God knows what else is not in the category of the kinds of miracles that, in the Catholic Church, might get you sainthood.  Technically, these domestic incidences don’t qualify as miracles because they were in fact possible and no laws of nature needed to be abrogated.   

My mother-in-law, like me, sees miracles every day.  When my daughter is visiting a friend for the weekend and comes home safely on Sunday night, she will say, "Thank God, it’s a miracle!" as if my daughter were going to China and not Connecticut.  Or, when my nephew met a lovely young woman whom he will marry this summer, she immediately declared, "It’s a miracle!"  This seems not terribly flattering to my nephew, but I concur: it’s often a miracle when someone comes along and you find each other.  It could so easily be otherwise. 

My mother-in-law fell and broke her hip last week but, thank God, it’s a miracle, she was with family at the time instead of alone at home, and within 24 hours, she was all sewed up and is on the mend. 

A bird falls from a tree, a child falls from the stairs, people fall in love, and grandma falls on the ground.  Sometimes, not always, in various mysterious ways, somebody’s there when you land.