A couple weeks ago, my husband got a text from a church ward member asking him to help cut down a tree.
“This is not the time of year to cut down trees,” I said to my husband. “They are full of bird nests. Wait until fall, or at least late summer, until the baby birds have flown away.”
The tree was in the yard of an elderly woman in our neighborhood who has been in poor health lately. It was an enormous pine tree, maybe 30 feet tall, and its roots were threatening to crack the driveway cement.
While it didn’t seem like an urgent issue to me or my husband, the tree was worrying our neighbor and she wanted it gone.
“We do what grandmas ask,” my husband said with a sigh. He was unenthusiastic about both the job and the timing, but he respects his elders.
So, with some reluctance and a chainsaw, he and our teen sons headed to our neighbor’s house early Saturday morning.
About an hour later, I got a phone call from my 14-year-old.
“Mom?” he said, his voice trembling.
I immediately feared the worst, and grabbed my keys, expecting to be told to meet my husband and sons at the ER.
But no, the people were all safe.
“Mom? There’s some baby birds here? And their nest fell out of the tree? And they might be hurt? And I thought you would know what to do?” My tender son ended every sentence like a question in an effort to maintain composure and sound reasonable.
“I’ll be right there,” I said, grabbing an old towel and a laundry basket.
Sure enough, the driveway was full of people sawing branches and there were four baby birds on the ground near my son when I arrived. Two other chicks had not survived the fall. One of the remaining babies appeared to have a broken beak, but they all peeped and gaped at me when I waved my hand over them.
I scooped them up into the basket and headed for the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah.
The heroic folks there are more accustomed to seeing worried people with laundry baskets containing injured animals than they’d like to be. They sighed at my story of mid-summer tree removal — they’ve heard the same story many times and wish people could postpone their major landscaping until fall.
Still, they knew exactly how to help our tiny avian refugees. It would take their small staff a lot of work to care for these babies, but odds were good for their survival and eventual release.
I was relieved the birdlets would be OK, but I was still upset they had been needlessly traumatized at all.
They weren’t dead, but they also weren’t safe in their nest with mom and dad bringing them lunch and teaching them how to be birds. Life is more complicated than it had to be.
Should the neighbors not have removed the tree? Probably. But we all want to serve others, and there is no one we want to serve more than kind grandmas. Should we have explained why postponing tree removal would be better timing? Maybe, but it’s hard to say how that suggestion would be received. Neighbors might be more important than wild birds, but couldn’t there be a way to keep them both happy?
I don’t have clear answers, only frustration and regret with a smidge of relief.
My takeaway from this whole experience is, when we serve, especially when we are trying to serve as a disciple of Christ, we need to look at the whole picture. We must serve in ways that help meet needs without causing others hurt or compromising anyone’s dignity.
Whenever there is an opportunity to help others avoid suffering and trauma, we should embrace it, even if it is inconvenient or doesn’t seem to benefit us.
Our efforts to move through our lives with more gentleness and care may make a big difference for someone, whether baby bird or person.
Contact Sally at email@example.com