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Elan Vitae


  • Shena Driscoll Salvato


To see it from a different vantage point, it could have been one of thousands of other birds who have traveled en route from one roost to the next on the updrafts above the crest of this hill. Seeing its climb, its aim toward the tree tops at the edge of the forest (or the edge of the field, depending upon the perspective of the beholder), could have been catching sight of the flight of any bird on any given day under a sunlit blue sky. Its flight gave no indication of recent struggle, of just-how-close-to-never-again-seeing-the-light-of-day it had been.

We, too, could just pass by, day after day, unnoticed, until that one day, when we need to be heard…and are. What incredible fortune.

How many birds had passed through my own field of vision without me even considering the circumstances through which they had just flown, from where had they just departed? How disconnected had I been from the origins and destinies of the countless creatures around me? From where we stood on that day, though, inside the window, inside the house, we knew from where this bird had emerged. We knew what that seemingly unremarkable flight meant — a rebirth, a glorious new opportunity — perhaps even more liberating than the very first time lifting off and staying a-flight.

Had another born silent witness to my own liberation? If so, does that experience still resonate with them, as this one does with me?

We knew from where it had come, had heard the scratching, the flapping, the urgency. The desperation was far too much to ignore. After all, we were there. We were present. We, ourselves, felt it, were compelled to act, to do anything we could to set it free from this most unfortunate entrapment, on this day bathed in light. Dark, confined, sooty, deprived of water and likely, too, of food, the desperation was felt by those of us on the outside. The release did not seem possible without our intervention. Neither whistling, nor tapping, called it out, nor did blocking the light entering from the glass below to urge it back toward from where it had come. A swift dismantling seemed the only solution.

Had we been in such a circumstance, batting our wings in vain, would it be a conscious call for help in an attempt to draw the attention of our potential liberators? Or is our own flapping and flailing simply an instinctive reaction as a last resort to attempt to free ourselves?

While we’ll never know what compelled it to enter that confined, uninviting space, dormant and ironically cool in its offseason, our opportunity to bear witness to its eventual liberation could have been, in the grand scheme of things, the reason for us to be called here, together.

Perhaps it was a reenactment of our own liberation to bear witness to, since we, just as the bird, had been so consumed with our own getting out that we hadn’t embraced the grandeur of that singular, pivotal moment. Now, from this other vantage point, do we finally see it?

While it was the creature being freed, physically, what were we each being released from as we were drawn to its furious fluttering? What were we being released from collectively—mother, daughter, son? While we hoped, and wanted to believe, did we really know that our efforts could make a difference? Cautiously moving the now-separated pipe from vertical to horizontal, then across the room toward the beckoning open window, I held my breath. To escape too soon into the confines of the room would be only entering into another layer of entrapment. It waited, though, silent. What called it out? The light? The fresh air? The sounds of its natural environment in reach? That breathtaking moment when it emerged into the open sky was so striking that a jolt of awe and wonder seemed to have palpably emanated from all of us at the same time. I like to believe our feeling of triumph gave rise to it, creating a strong, skyward draft to lift it as high as it wanted or needed to go, to push it away from us, from those it no longer needed, and toward its own liberation. Did my arms rise, palms open toward the sky, urging it along, or is that just how I imagine myself bearing witness to its freedom—my mouth gaping open, eyes wide, breath drawing in, tears forming in my eyes, a profound sense of celebration in the center of my chest for its newfound opportunity? After it alighted on that far branch near the top of the canopy, I lost sight of it. I  imagine it, though, shaking the soot from its head, pruning its dusty feathers, feeling the breeze and the sunlight, hearing the rustling of the leaves, and finally taking a breath. Was it aware of our presence? Our sincere care and concern? Did it even matter? How long did the memory of that experience linger with it, and how long will it continue to linger with me?

How much longer it will live, I will never know. What new life it will create, I will never know. What roll it will play the cycle of live, I will never know. Where it will go from here, I will never know. Whether I have seen or ever will see it again, I will never know. From where did the satisfaction come—in its release or in my own? Perhaps I will never know.

Photo Credit: Mathew Schwartz via Unsplash


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