I’m feeding the birds Italian cookies outside the atrium at the nursing home where my grandmother now lives.
Grammy had tried to pass off the snacks to me – but both of us Irish, neither of us have an interest in these licorice-smelling cookie-cracker things. We won’t eat them. And she doesn’t know what to do with the bag.
But then, as we sit and eye the birds (she does. I forget there are birds) … she says “I wish we had something to feed them.”
As if on cue, we both eye the Ziplock-bagged cookies no one will eat.
“Let’s feed these to the birds,” I say, holding up the bag of Italian crackers that are either an acquired taste or a genetic predisposition.
We pause. We ponder. She frets. “What if she (the well intentioned lady who left them for her) finds out?”
I assure her that if the woman asks, she can say that she and her granddaughter – me—“shared them.” And she can just leave out the part about who (or what) we shared them with.
With alibi in hand, it took just a minute or 2 for me to stomp on the cookie-filled baggie and promptly step outdoors – sans coat – to throw crumbs out to the circling birds.
They came. They ate. The seagulls conquered.
“Are you cold without a coat?” my grandmother worries for a minute when I step back inside the atrium.
“Not a bit,” I say, reminding her it’s a balmy January 46 degrees inNew Jersey.
She pulls out another baggie of Italian cookie-crackers. Apparently they’ve been piling up. She instructs me on where to sprinkle them as I stomp on the bag. “Over there, by those small bushes. And right there, and at the front of the building.” I note the map, carry the Ugg-stomped crumbs, and again step outside into the winter warmth.
It’s the sparrows that she’s worried about. We agree seagulls have no business being on Kennedy Boulevard in Hudson County. We agree we dislike them – hate is too strong a word – and agree that though pigeons are not “that bad” … it’s the little sparrows that need the crumbs.
I sprinkle where she directs. I’m soon joined by another woman using a walker, an aide by her side.
We wave at one another, and at my wheelchair-bound grandmother, and I sprinkle crumbs with the thoughtfulness of a 97 year old woman who cannot walk, pondering places the sparrows might find and the seagulls won’t think to look.
And for the first time in my life, I understand why Boy Scouts make bird feeders, why people step outside from breakfast to sprinkle their crusts from half-eaten, over-buttered toast. And why there are cataloges devoted to feeders that will keep out seagulls, squirrels, pigeons and only God and skinny sparrows know what else.
There’s an instinct that exists in humanity to protect and provide for those who can’t – or are unable – to care for themselves.
And so we save crumbs for the sparrows, for the little ones who can’t always get past those that are bigger, stronger, smarter.
Later, I drive away from that nursing home – that compound full of mixed minds and broken bodies, full of compassion, confusion and peace – and I know love. I don’t just feel it – I know it.
And I drive away knowing the simple pleasure of feeding the birds.
And simply being.