When I was about 10, my brother and I were given a BB gun. Few gifts have ever meant more to me. I owned a BB gun and I could shoot things. I feel the need to apologize now (me having been a girl and all) for the delight I took in that gun. I didn’t have any apologies then. I was a pioneer for heaven’s sake, stuck by no fault of my own in the 1980’s. Obviously, I needed a gun.
I was born believing that the end of modern technology and a return to simpler times was merely a matter of time. Call it unflinching optimism. Whenever the pioneer times did return, I had no intention of gathering herbs or stirring pots. I needed hunting experience if I wanted to save myself from the gatherers fate assigned to my gender.
Harper Lee’s, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” references the sadness of innocent life, killed for no purpose. It’s one of my favourite books of all time. I love the story, but I also know about that bird.
My goal was to get a rabbit and bring it home for dinner. Bring it in the back door, say nothing, and put it on the kitchen counter like I did it every day. Even a squirrel would have made me happy, but every time I went out walking, I saw nothing but trees and grass.
Which is when I thought of chickadees. There was a big bush at the top of the bank by our front yard. Birds came to eat the berries. They flew off en mass all a flutter when I laid down on the grass nearby, but after a while, one came back. I shot it because that had been my plan. It fell to the ground. I dropped my gun and stumbled forward knelt and touched it. It was wounded but not yet dead. I laid on the ground beside the chickadee and sobbed. I stroked it softly at first, tears falling, then realized I didn’t have the right. The miracle I begged for did not come. When it was over, I buried the bird, still weeping.
I have explained the title of Harper Lee’s book to classes of thirteen year olds. I know, I have told them. I have done this thing. The darkness is not out there somewhere. It is inside us. Not all the lines you cross can be uncrossed. It is a thing in need of many tears, a thing to look in the face long enough to be sure you can say afterwards, no, never again.