We rise after a good night's sleep, stretch our arms into the air, and smile like a model in a sleep aid commercial. Refreshed and ready for whatever life throws at us after our nightly recharge. That is rare for me. I sleep through the night but never get up feeling as refreshed as the actors in these commercials. Guess that comes with age...the lack of good sleep, achy bones, and sleepy eyes. You awake, but some days feel like you could easily go back to sleep.
But, there is another kind of awakening that is so much more important to our well-being and planet. Let me tell you a story about a stupid teenage boy. A boy who thought he was a man, but in all reality, his brain was lagging far behind the growth of his physical presence. That boy was me. When I was around 12 or 13 my parents allowed me to buy a Daisy bb gun with the money I had earned doing yard work. I was so proud. The shiny black metal and imitation wood stock just beckoned me to go shooting. The ammunition, bbs, were cheap and they came in a really cool-looking cylindrical, yellow tube. I practiced my skills daily, shooting at old, rusty cans, plastic soldiers, carpenter ants, and at times chipmunks. Somehow, using this gun made me feel more like an adult. More like a "man."
One day, I was walking down a trail behind our house. It was one of those summer afternoons. The cicadas were chanting and the air was very still. Barefoot and holding my gun at ready I heard some commotion nearby. High above me, I could see a number of grackles hopping from limb to limb in the green canopy overhead. I aimed at one of the birds, knowing that if I was going to hit it, I'd need to move quickly. I squeezed the trigger and fired. Nothing happened. The birds continued to squawk and jump from branch to branch like nothing had happened. I aimed again, squeezed, and fired. I watched. One bird sat very still. It was not squawking anymore. It did not move. The reality of what I had done began to sink in. Within seconds it fell from high above, streaming through leaves and branches until it landed with a thud about ten feet away from me on the mowed path. I didn't know what to feel. Should I feel proud that I was able to hit the target or sad that I just killed a living creature? I walked toward the still and lifeless bird. It was lying on its back, its breast facing upward. As I got closer, I noticed a small drop of bright red blood resting on the very top of the dark breast feathers. It was still bright and had been beating inside the veins and heart merely seconds earlier. As I knelt down to pick up my prey, another grackle dived down at me! Squawking and clamoring, cussing me out in a language I couldn't understand, but knew from the tone, it wasn't good. I stepped away. Further and further from the corpse. The other bird landed by my victim and I heard the call change. This was not an angry squawk anymore. It was much different. Like before, I could sense the emotion without understanding the language. Sorrow. This was an awakening for me. It still hurts when I think about it today. It still causes me to feel fresh shame and sorrow. I killed a living thing for no reason. Not for food, not for protection. Just for sport. But, I had never seen a wild creature with emotions that were in my mind, regulated to humans. All life is precious whether it be a honey bee or a grackle. To kill without remorse, without reason, without emotion, is a dangerous and soulless thing. I'm sorry for that bird and its mate. But, I am thankful that it was not wasted. What happened that day, changed me for life.