The hummingbird’s wing was caught in a sliver of wood on the steps in our garage. The tiny bird was not moving.
I’d gone into the garage last night because my wife said a hummingbird had been in there since she got home, and she was afraid it couldn’t find its way out. Perhaps it was our garage lights. Or the smell of bottles and cans of sugary drinks and beer and wine in our collection of recycling. Whatever drew the bird in, it didn’t understand that escaping would require flying toward darkness.
I’m no hummingbird expert, but I know they eat. Like, a lot. All the time, basically. And I knew if it had been in our garage for hours without sustenance, the poor thing didn’t have long before its energy stores were burned through. I either had to let it die and locate it by the stench in a few days, or go and try to help it.
When I found the bird and walked toward it, the bird ducked behind our recycling, and then attempted to fly away, but its left wing, moving at patented hummingbird warp speed, somehow knifed into one of the untreated wooden steps leading up to our door to our kitchen. And it just stopped.
I found some gardening gloves and freed its wing, and it flew away… but not out. After several attempts to encourage it in the direction of “out,”, it once again disappeared behind a pile of my tools. This time, I’m not sure if it was trapped or had simply given up. Eventually I got the bird between my gloved palms and carried it to the yard, where it flew away. Whether it would survive the night was no longer in my hands. But at least it had a chance.
Before this moment, I hadn’t known hummingbirds could squeak. Or chirp. Or scream. Whatever noise they make when one fears for its life. But this little hummingbird chirped in serious panic.
Soon after, I got into bed, and a sort of serene self-satisfaction washed over me, not because I’d done anything heroic, but because something about hummingbirds make me feel overwhelmed with optimism. They work so damn hard, and they make it look so damn effortless. They don’t deserve to die merely because they took a wrong turn into some man-made monstrosity. Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact, but that hummingbird wasn’t going to die in my garage without me trying to do something about it.
Fourteen hours later, I was standing at my desk at work when I heard what sounded like two cats fighting, emitting those plaintive wails reminiscent of screaming babies. I couldn’t see anything outside my office window, but I knew it must be close by. Emboldened by my previous evening’s rescue efforts, I went outside and encountered an unforgettable sight.
A sedan was stuck, its back two-thirds stuck up on a curb, inclined sharply on a hill. The front third jutting onto the pavement. In a million years you would never expect to see a car in this position, nose down but unmoving, in this particular location, at my place of work. First, because how did it get in this position. Second, because how was it frozen there, ignoring gravity? Third, why was it screaming?
I then saw a girl. Writhing. Wailing. Her leg was trapped between the front wheel and the front section of chassis and bumper. Another girl standing nearby was screaming in terror, the vocal expression of abject helplessness.
Several others showed up shortly after me. Combined efforts helped extract her from underneath the vehicle. After hours of inspection on the scene and then in the emergency room, it was determined her injuries were only minor. No broken bones. No internal injuries.
The odds of a hummingbird’s wing getting trapped by a sliver of wood. The odds of a girl falling down and being run over by a car, yet walking out of the hospital hours later. Blessings, both, but one so immeasurably bigger.
So… why did the latter situation leave me shaken? What does it say, that the hummingbird encounter left me feeling happy while the story of a young girl who also walked away left me and others who witnessed it nauseated and restless for hours if not days?
I can’t help but wonder if it’s because we know this young girl was, simply, lucky. The event could have unfolded dozens of different ways. Only one of them would have ended up with her suffering minor bruises and abrasions. The others would have ended from Much Worse to Gruesome, and that thought buckles the knees.
Why are we haunted by what could have been? Why is it hard to be grateful for good luck? Why can I still hear her screaming?