A goldfinch weighs about half an ounce; it eats twenty percent of its body weight per day. In summer, flocks of them travel in looping, chittering passages from cover to cover. The males wear black wings over a bright yellow plumage, the females an olive color. Their hearts beat at 900 times a minute. You will not find them in deep forest. They are for open fields and sun.
This one did not fly when I approached the feeder but remained fixed on the post, looking, eating, looking again at my looming form. I bent to see it more clearly. Its right eye was swollen shot, a symptom of conjunctivitis. He did not fly when my hand came within an inch. Anything could have plucked him out of life. Half his range of vision had vanished.
Avian Conjunctivitis, a parasitical disease, causes the eyes to swell shut. Blind birds can neither escape predators nor feed. This one finally spun off to a close branch. He remained within reach while I filled the feeder. When I backed off two feet, he returned. I was a large shadow worth chancing.
Later that day, I raked the feed off the ground, sterilized the feeders and then returned them. He also returned the next morning, one-eyed, a survivor of at least the previous night, tenacious, his life-force as resilient as his heart.
When I see a broken thing of the world that will not give up, both pity and admiration come flying together in a gust of feeling. The Marine IED’d in Iraq who straps on his bionic legs each morning, the hunchback in the gym lifting his body weight above his chest; the oldest women in the world, hidden in coats and scarves, walking city streets alone with small steps, pulling their two-wheeled grocery carts behind them; the entire tribe of shambling, toughed elderly; all those damaged and striving children over the years whose set mouths I can still see, whose daily valor took form in their care of younger brothers and sisters, in their after-school jobs, in their refusal to be pitied; my mother, her memory drained, framing her sentences in perfect grammar. I think of the strong among the lonely and bereft, of all those wrecked by circumstance or malice and who have not lay down and died, but instead have kept trying to make useful lives. I think of them often and hope that when the time comes, as it will, that I too am able to calmly persevere and morning by morning welcome the days because I have something yet to do.
When I stepped onto the porch early Sunday morning, I found another goldfinch, a female, stunned by a probable collision with a window, breathing as if a high-speed bellows was at work in her breast. I picked her up. She buried her head under a wing and nestled in my cupped palm.
To give her a measure of camouflage, I set her on top of a glove and placed her on a small table. An hour later she was still there, recovering, pulsing with slower breaths, sleeping.
How the forsaken cry out to us! How their unbroken fortitude brings relief from our wounds!