to 3:00 p.m. I sit frequently and move freely during my
work day. When I return home, I now have the energy to write. Thanks, Byrd.
Moving Forward, Looking Backward
I now realize that I didn't train Byrd to do tricks. He trained me to live life. The
grief at his loss is as great as his influence.
Byrd strikes a pose reminiscent of many years ago. 2008.
I also have to thank Byrd for leading me to trust gut instinct—something
I hadn't done in critical years. I now realize that I forced myself into military
service in order to pay for my college education. I wished years of my life
away, counting down every day of miserable military life until my active
service ended. Immediately afterward, I forced myself into a college program
that wasn't a field of my passion, but one of which I had moderate interest
and from which a decent income could be made. I did well in my speech
pathology and audiology classes, even achieving a graduate assistantship
that paid for my Master of Arts Degree. However, after clinical internships,
I had no desire to enter the field of study, rendering the degree almost
worthless. When financial times became desperate after graduation, a job
as claim examiner for the United States Department of Veteran's Affairs was
available and I took it. One wrong turn led to another which led to another.
My strengths were not of the calculator but of the heart. The sensitivity and
natural abilities that I had as a child had never been considered in my major
life choices.
Byrd broke that destructive cycle. Only heartfelt feeling could direct a
desperate man not only to take a wild bird into his home, but to communicate
with him, and eventually, to love him. “Dat... dat beeg bird... he... he beet
me,” my Russian girlfriend exclaimed as she stood close to me messaging
her hand. As Byrd looked up to me from the front room carpet, the look in
his brown eyes told me that he indeed did bite Allie while I was out of the
room. Rather than scold him, I just laughed. Inevitably, she tried to have
an 18-year-old bird climb upon her hand without giving him the respect of
his own space in his own home. Deep inside, both of us knew that Allie's
wanderlust for world travel would soon carry her away. Regardless, Byrd did
what he felt. And I loved him for it.
The courage and boldness of Byrd's nature began to affect me. I
began to make life-changing decisions based upon gut instinct. By 1996, I
left the Veteran's Administration. Although a well-paying job with excellent
benefits, I hated working there. The negativity of angry coworkers, poor
training from disinterested instructors and illogical methods of evaluating
work performance by passive section chiefs were killing my spirit. When
I thoroughly doubted my own intelligence and work ethic, I left to begin
songwriting and working various part-time jobs.
By 2002, I returned to college. A local community college offered some
of the classes that I should have taken so many years ago—the classes that
well-meaning people told me not to take because they were not lucrative.
When teachers began to use my research papers as class examples, I felt
that I was onto something. Against the wishes of the school career placement
head, I applied for an unpaid internship at a local trade show company in
2004 as a writer for their magazine. Even as a 40-year-old intern, I learned
quickly and wrote market research articles for 8 weeks without pay. On my
final day, the company offered me a full-time position. My gut told me that
their initial offer was far too low. My counteroffer was almost 33% higher.
After two weeks of consideration, the company accepted my offer.
I let my gut lead me to other challenges. In 2005, I volunteered at an
animal shelter for Monday night dog walking, never missing an evening for
the two years of my volunteer service. When the magazine closed in 2006,
I began to write screenplays. By 2010, Byrd's inspiration led me to write his
story, my first book. With Byrd as my mentor, I've finally found satisfaction.
Byrd showed me how beautiful life can be. As a tribute to his natural
beauty, I covered his burial site with Lord's Ladies, Rain Lilies, Dutch
Wildflowers and ground cover. And as he lived to his natural end, so must I.
Nature shouldn't be rushed or feared. I discounted the value of my life, too
often looking forward to its end.
I'd like to think that I never took Byrd's precious life for granted. The
clicking of his claws on my hardwood bedroom floor still echo. Well into his
year, he continued to flutter from his cage, come to my bedside and
sing morning songs from the floor. Well into his 17
year, I would enter the
apartment door and ask, “Are you still alive, Byrd?” After he shot me a dirty
look, I'd cheer, “Yaay, you're still alive!” I'd rush to his cage, escort him out
and we would have dinner. Byrd still enjoyed moist raisins, a bit of meat, a
strand of pasta. Perhaps, his life of over 18 years and my grief over his death
are the best testament to a life well lived.
And love... yes, I did love him. As odd as it sounds, I would have
died for him. With the threat of imprisonment, Federal law dictates that wild
birds are not to be kept as pets. I would never have given Byrd up under any
circumstance. Who among you would give up their son, daughter or aging
parents without a deadly fight? Enough said. I never mentioned Byrd to
anyone other than immediate family and a very small number of my closest
My heart still aches. I want to write “I love you, Byrd” a million times. I
want to use my paycheck to pay for Byrd to return to this earth, to my room,
to me for the rest of my life. And at the moment of my death, I want to feel the
peacefulness of an early morning in bed; of Byrd sitting on the windowsill;