308. The Adventure of Emily and the Robin

Until recently, I thought there would come a point when I’d cured myself of all my bad habits and eliminated all of my counterproductive thought patterns. Then I’d be perfect, and write articles telling the rest of you how to be perfect, too. But at best, I’ve only got about fifty years left. I don’t think I’ll make it. In fact, I’m still not sure which habits and thought patterns I ought to get rid of.
Recently, I spent some time with Emily, an eight year old child who was concerned about a robin on a bush outside my apartment. The robin couldn’t fly, and was easy prey for any of the many cats that live near me. I know my own reaction to the situation: the robin was probably going to die, and there wasn’t anything we humans could do about it. I thought the best thing we could do would be to leave the robin alone – let nature take its course. Maybe there would be a miracle, and the robin would somehow recover its ability to fly, and go on to live a happy and productive life. Or maybe a cat would end up having some fun
(fun that, from many humans’ perspectives, would appear sadistic and gruesome).
It wasn’t a big issue for me; I worry more about humans whose lives are in danger. I’d sacrifice several robins to save one human. I think Emily would, too, but there weren’t any humans facing death right outside my apartment, and there was an injured robin. From Emily’s perspective, this was not at all an issue to be taken lightly. I don’t know to what degree she was secretly enjoying the drama; maybe she’d find a way to save the
poor bird, despite the seeming indifference of adults, and her story would be written up in the paper, with a photo of Emily and her avian friend.
In a way, I really don’t mean to make light of the situation. Here was a child caring about a helpless bird. That kind of caring is one of the many things I love about children. I helped Emily try to contact the Audubon Society, some animal shelters, some veterinarians. She had very little success; she reached mostly answering machines. It was a Friday evening. We spent the better part of an hour trying to find a way to save the bird. The only live human voice Emily reached was that of a woman who told her to leave the bird alone – that there was nothing she could do. That’s what I’d suggested, but she was more ready to believe an official-sounding voice on the phone than mine.
During all of this commotion, I was trying to be the perfect adult, listening to Emily’s concern, taking her seriously, providing some useful perspective, guiding her toward a wise course of action. It helped that I didn’t have any of my own urgent business to attend to; most of you other adults do. But even with the freedom to devote all of my thinking to the Adventure of Emily and the Robin, I still didn’t know whether to try getting her to be less concerned (creatures die; that’s life), get more involved in the drama, or what. I hope she knows I care about what she was going through. And I hope I was right about whatever role I played in the drama.

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