I am a crier, have been forever. On happy occasions or sad ones, if I am deeply moved, the tears will flow. I hate that, but I cannot help it.
Yesterday I found Levi in the backyard with a baby bird. I assumed he had killed it, but when I picked it up to take it away from him, I could see its chest moving. Levi had carried the little bird in his mouth--it was wet with his saliva--but it had no external signs of injury. Still, it lay on its side, tiny wings close against its sides, delicate legs extended, not moving except for the thumping of its chest, the opening and closing of its beak, and the occasional blinking of its eyes.
I put the little bird on a nest of paper towels in a small cardboard box, set the box on the stovetop under a light I thought might dry it out and warm it up while I tried to figure out what to do. If it began to show any signs of improvement, I would tend it; if not, I was at a loss, because there was no way I could put it out of its misery. I texted my son-in-law, who keeps a close eye on the babies in his birdhouses, and asked for suggestions. Before he could reply, I texted him again: "Never mind. I think it just died." Its chest had stopped moving and its beak was still.
I cried off and on all day about that baby bird, not because of it's death, but because I had witnessed its futile struggle to live. I cried for its parents, little brown sparrows I'd seen the day before when they hovered on a fence near their nest and watched their fledgelings test their wings. I cried for the hope and effort those mates had put into building the nest, incubating the eggs, and feeding the gaping, hungry mouths until the little ones were ready to go out into the world on their own and meet their own destinies.
Thinking about it today makes me teary-eyed again.
It doesn't take a lot to set me off. Loving words written on birthday cards make me cry. Books, movies, and beautiful music frequently do. Reunions and goodbyes bring tears in equal measure. I have embarrassed myself by crying at a shopping mall, moved by the young voices and earnest expressions of children in a choir singing Christmas carols, and in the middle of a beer-drinking crowd at a festival on a hot summer day when a small group of mentally challenged adults took the stage, singing and playing tambourines. The joy on their faces was palpable, and my heart swelled with happiness that they were feeling so very good about themselves at that moment. I have cried in a business management meeting (not cool at all!) when layoffs were being discussed and people I cared about were going to lose their jobs. Once, in Miami, Florida, I sat on the curb with a neighbor's child, comforting her when she was distraught after finding the body of a large dead toad (of all things), my own tears dropping simply because hers did. Another time tears sprang to my eyes in Walmart when I encountered a small girl who was crying loudly because she'd become separated from her mother, and I knew how scary that felt. In New York, during the funeral of my husband's boss, a wealthy man I'd never met, I cried softly for his stoic wife and the equally stoic adult children who surrounded her up front in the family pews. Later, I had to muffle ridiculous sobs as everyone filed out of the church and left one woman behind, on her knees, head bowed, alone. That woman, I'd been told, had been the deceased man's mistress for more than twenty years. My empathy seems to be unswayed by the rules of polite society.
Life happens every day. Much of it is happy; a lot of it is sad. I don't believe empathy and compassion are undesirable human qualities and wouldn't want to have less of either one. I just wish to God I had better control of the waterworks.