As you may or may not know, depending on where you live, a [black-billed] magpie is a black and white bird with long tail feathers which looks a bit like a crow. When the sun shines on the magpie, its dark feathers are iridescent, appearing to be blue, purple and green all at once. The magpie doesn’t have a sweet, musical voice. It screeches and chases songbirds, even eating other birds’ eggs when the opportunity comes along. It flies behind cats, cawing loudly and snipping at their tails.
Listen to me read this piece:
Around here, anyway, magpies are not well-liked. We have a few in our yard for a couple of reasons. They enjoy the suet I put out for other birds, and they are extremely fond of the eggshells they find in the compost bin. Both the suet and the shells are valuable sources of protein. There are also quite a few tall trees in our neighbourhood which provide excellent shelter and nesting habitat. And so, for now, the magpies are here to stay.
Just yesterday, one magpie of a mating pair was injured. It lay in the grass struggling to lift its head while the other circled about, cawing and seemingly urging the other to stand or to fly.
I could feel the uninjured bird’s distress at the situation of its mate. The healthy bird was clearly agitated, quite frantic, and I thought “Not so different than us.”
There’s no feeling more frustrating than that feeling of helplessness and useless restlessness in the face of suffering – especially the suffering of someone we love. As I watched the magpies in this difficult circumstance, I recognized and understood their suffering as no different from my own.
I couldn’t watch nature take its course, and I don’t know for sure if the injured magpie went on to live or to die. I looked away and closed the curtains in response to the stab of pain in my heart. It was silly, after all, to feel so deeply the pain of another – especially one so despised and at times so despicable. What did I need that for when I already have enough sorrow of my own?
It’s true that we cannot easily take on all the sorrows of the world, nor can we single-handedly cure all the injustices, illnesses, and injuries. But the magpies made me consider that perhaps if I could just open my heart a bit wider to see and hold the suffering of others that I may be better equipped to deal with my own. If I can accept the magpies’ suffering – both the injury and the distress – then perhaps I can also better accept my own suffering and that of all living creatures. With a more open heart, perhaps next time I won’t need to look away.