"It was our bird," she shared. "I stepped on him."
Her confession conjured the guilt I've felt at our kids' sunburns; at my toddler's backward tumble, head on pavement, after propping her in a chair on a paved slope; at drops of blood and tears I induced trimming my daughters' infant fingernails.
But my friend wasn't clipping her parrot's wings. Charlie pooped in his cage but apparently lived everywhere else. He cruised from room to room; he perched in the trees above her and chattered with the wild birds as my friend gardened. The family's German Shepherd and he were fast friends, following each other around the house.
Charlie was hopping toward the living room, where my friend's son lay on the couch home sick from school, as she ran back into the house to grab something and caught him underfoot.
It was, ultimately, his freedom and his integration into the household which hastened his demise. Would she have had it any other way? I wondered out loud. No, she readily admitted, regretting the shoes she wore for her dash inside, shoes normally left at the door, shoes which added injury to the not-uncommon insult of accidentally "kicking" Charlie as he sprung about on the floor.
There's always that niggling detail, isn't there, which causes us to push the rewind button and mentally revisit the might-have-beens: the shoes which shouldn't have been on, the route which normally wouldn't be taken, the place we wouldn't normally be. These are the variables--the flapping wings of the butterfly--that sometimes seem to save our skins, too.
It hurts when we feel we've had a hand--or foot--in our loved ones' misfortune. "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out" isn't funny when you bought the stroller that strangled your infant. When you left your child in the car on a warm summer day. When your child drowns in the swimming pool. There's carelessness, and then there's chance, and there's bad confluence of events. There's "there but for fortune go I," because none of us is perfect, because none of us is the right kind of vigilant at the right time, all the time.
I have a fear of falling. It's a funky fear, related to a fear of heights, but based only on my potential to fall, and not how far: I avoid standing on stools, climbing fences, walking on wobbly surfaces, descending stairs. My falling phobia, thankfully, is met head-on by my determination to be tough. Nevertheless, my greatest challenge is not projecting my fear on my kids. I do my best to subdue cringeing, flinching, and gasps while I watch my daughters ride bikes, run headlong down the sidewalk, climb the monkey bars. I owe them that: to live. To be humans in our dangerous and unpredictable world.
I want to imbue them with common sense and self defense, but I know the freedoms we afford them may cause them harm, nonetheless: driving, traveling, dating. I admire the parents whose children require extra care--children with brittle bones, allergies, weak hearts--moms and dads who navigate the demilitarized zone between overprotecting and encouraging adventurous living.
Charlie was no caged bird. His little life was richer for it. And so is my friend's, with that parrot she let hop-fly in her midst, walking among the big people, living large.