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Lessons from the Black Bird

I had a panic attack.

It had been almost 10 years since the last one I had, and although it felt different from ones I’ve had in the past, I knew what it was. My chest tightened as I gasped for air. “Don’t die. Please. Come on, come on. Just calm down. Calm down. You can do it. It’s going to be over soon. Breathe…. just breathe.” I repeated these thoughts in my head over and over again until it passed. It did pass… but I cried all night and the next day. My swollen eyelids carried pink puffy pouches for the entire day. My chest felt like it had been stabbed a thousand times. My poor lungs carried all of the weight from the impact and struggled to expand to their full capacity. It hurt to laugh. I sadly needed strength to simply smile.

Two days later, I still felt the pain that triggered the panic attack. Thoughts about my trauma resurfaced. My head was a mental prison and I was in solitary confinement. I felt suffocated at home. I went out for a drive to gather my thoughts and regain my breath. Within minutes, I decided to drive to an open area to ground myself. I parked over at an empty middle school parking lot where I found some shade and solitude. Now typically when I use this coping strategy, I sit with my windows down and car off so that I can feel the gentle wind caress my skin... but with the triple digit heat of 105 degrees, I left my car running, windows up, and A/C on “It’s too damn hot out here to even play like that!”.

Out in front of me was a large tree casting a shadow to the west. At the bottom was a black bird... picking at the ground... likely searching for its next meal. As I studied the bird, I saw what looked like a twig slowly being carried and dropped at each peck to the ground. My first thought was that it was so incredibly hot outside the bird couldn’t keep the twig in its mouth. But the longer I watched, the more I realized that what I was seeing was not a twig. It was the bird’s fractured left leg sticking straight out toward the left side of its body. I immediately felt pain and sorrow for the bird’s suffering.

After a few minutes of watching the bird, the pain I was feeling toward it turned into awe. Here it was, in temperatures hotter than a mug left in the pits of hell, searching the ground, finding a way to persevere. The bird could have easily given up on itself the moment its leg broke. Who knows how long it had endured the pain? But there it was. Pecking its beak to the ground, finding food, and hopping with its strong leg when it got a little off-balanced. This bird, of course, was in survival mode, but I imagine how much easier it could have been for it to give up and starve or bleed to death. Then I thought about myself and why I drove to the park in the first place. How easy it would be for me to give up on life the second the pain gets too heavy. The moment I'm tired of being reminded about my own pain and suffering.

After a few more minutes of watching the bird, feeling sorry, and doing a quick search on how to help a bird with a broken leg, I wondered if there was anything else wrong with the bird. If its wings were injured too. “Can you fly?” I thought to the bird as if it could hear what I was thinking. I watched it take a couple more pecks to the ground. Sure enough, not a second had passed.. I’m talking almost IMMEDIATELY after that thought.. the bird, in one swift motion, sprang into the air with its strong leg, spread its wings and flew to the top of the oak trees in the distance.

I sat in silence, reflecting on what I had just saw, thinking about the timing of everything, how peculiar of a “coincidence” it was. As I thought about what the moment was teaching me, I realized that as much as I want a soft and easy life, I know there are still going to be a lot of things that break me. But I can keep going. I can keep moving forward, even if it's at a slower pace. Despite the pain, sometimes we have to gather the remaining strength we have to fly to new heights….

But if we can’t fly just yet, sometimes the best we can do is survive. And that's okay.

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