I’d like to tell you one more tale about Costa Rica, if you’re open to it. It was an unexpected encounter and one that proved an important reminder to me about prejudice and the ways it can blind us to love in this life.
WE WERE LOUNGING BY THE POOL, Eliza, Tim and I, spending our last vacation afternoon doing not much of anything but sunning, swimming, and hanging together there in the quiet. It was time I revered and deeply appreciated. I have so little with my grown-up daughter these days, and so you can see why I approached the lounging with great intention. We chose a spot away from other pool-ers, one in a more remote corner of the resort that offered a little isolation, one with our own little swim spot and a giant umbrella, just for us.
Thanks to the poolside restaurant (and attentive, roving waiters), there was also a bite of lunch. Which brought on the Grackles, great-tailed and loud, hovering close and joining our quiet festivities in a rather uninvited way. It was something we’d experienced over and over throughout the week. The large crow-like birds are relentless and brash, braving harsh words and broad gestures in hopes of a small fry or leftover scrap of bun.
They stand in great contrast to the Scarlet Macaws, gorgeous birds that fly in every day around 4pm. The colorful parrots dine in almond trees that surround the resort’s pool area raising a cheer from a crowd that runs inevitably for a closer look. We joined them, we Monettis, standing on tiptoes, iPhones and iPads in hand as we click click clicked hoping for the perfect photo.
Those Macaws didn’t give a hoot, so to speak, and simply refused to do anything to accommodate as they crunched away, hidden as they were behind a mass of big green leaves.
And still we watched for them, every single day.
BUT I WAS TELLING ABOUT THE GRACKLES, the big black birds for whom none of us–not one soul around that pool, I suspect–felt any love. On this particular afternoon I’d had my eye on one in particular that solicited even more attention, causing a great racket and moving about that pool deck in a rather awkward fashion. I watched her (?) for several minutes and finally decided she must be a babe, early in the days of learning to fend for herself in a big, bad world.
About that time the thing flew up to a second story concrete ledge and misjudged the landing, loosing her footing and (I’m not exaggerating) sliding (in slo-mo fashion) all the way down a 15-foot rock wall. All the while she desperately fought for something to grab onto, anything to stop the descent. And then, kerplunk, she was in the water.
That baby was traumatized but buoyant, popping up to the surface (thank heavens) and floating there even if she couldn’t swim. Try as she might she also couldn’t flap her wings, at least not with enough force to lift from the water. She tried and tried, growing more panicked by the minute, and we watched and hoped as she (finally) made it over to the pool’s edge. There she floated, eyeing the same thing we did. The distance from water to deck was a daunting 12 inches or more. How would she ever get enough air to lift up and over that ledge?
ALL THE NOT-KIND THOUGHTS I’d had about those annoying black birds vanished in that moment. My heart was breaking for this vulnerable little soul, a God’s creature as much as any other, this youngster doing its best to simply make it through the day the best she could, the way her Mama and Daddy were teaching her.
Which, by the way, where were they???
I grabbed the closest thing I could find–my flip flop–and ran to the side of the pool. I leaned over toward the bird and did my best to get the shoe beneath her, hoping to give her enough platform to lift off and fly, or in the very least, to raise her up to the pool’s edge without causing further damage to her brittle legs or wings. It took us both a minute–and a bit of looking-each-other-in-the-eye trust–then finally we made it.
But oh, was she stunned as she stood there on the edge of that pool.
I WALKED AWAY, intent on giving her some space to recover. She waited a long minute then hop hop hopped to a nearby shrub and took refuge in the shade beneath its branches. I wondered if she were injured. We all thought we’d seen a bit of scarlet on her chest, and it didn’t take much of a leap to conclude that rock wall had done some damage. And what of her wings? Were they, too, affected? Or were they merely too wet for flight?
WE WENT BACK TO OUR BOOKS and I, for one, pretended to read, which was impossible given the eye I had to keep on that bush. After a while the baby emerged and one slow hop at a time crossed the pool deck, navigated lounge chairs, and made her way toward us. Eventually she reached the iron table just to Eliza’s left. She stopped, hopped to its base, and waited.
None of us spoke, but we all had our eyes on her.
SHE STAYED THERE a good long while. I worried she was immobilized, so to speak, injured and unable to fly. I wondered what would become of her when we left, if her wounds would heal, if time and nature would offer all she needed. (This sounds eerily familiar as I think of the Little Runaway in North Carolina.) Then I decided she was simply offering her thanks to us for seeing her amid the flock, for getting her out of that pool, for the kindness of caring.
I offered back a quiet you’re welcome little bird.
With that she slowly hopped on past us, stopping once and again to glance back our way.
IT TOOK THE LONGEST TIME, but eventually I looked up from my book to see another bird–surely one of her parents–close by. Whew, I thought, as that baby flapped her wings, trying to get some attention.
But to my chagrin (and hers), that grown-up simply flew off, offering no regard of any kind for the damaged little one.
I DON’T KNOW WHAT became of that baby. She disappeared around the corner of the pool and we packed up our things and returned to our room, sad we’d had our last day in Costa Rica but happy we’d had the colorful experiences it offered. I’m genuinely hopeful that disinterested black bird was a parent who assessed the situation from afar and who–as is so often the case with the animal kingdom if not the human one–determined the baby would be fine, then left her alone to work through the challenges on her own. I’m even secretly hopeful the baby rejoined the flock and in short order was irritating tourists–fries, buns and all–on the other side of that gorgeous, meandering Marriott pool.
In any event I’m thankful for the lesson she brought me. We are all worthy of love, even those–and perhaps especially those–who somehow seem to least deserve it.
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