We all become more skeptical as the little lies of childhood are exposed for what they are: the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, the dog that went to live on the farm up state. Many of us, though carry--now, let’s call them myths--into adulthood, perhaps to the end of our lives. We understand that flying through the air in a sleigh pulled by ungulates is patently ridiculous, yet see walking on water as proof of a special kind of magic.
Why do we tell the little lies, and why do we believe the big ones? I think the reason is the same. We want to maintain our innocence. We want to believe we can defeat the forces of nature--even death--despite all evidence to the contrary.
This need to keep awful truths from our children and ourselves has a persistence that can last a lifetime.
When I was eight or nine, Pop brought home an injured mourning dove. It had a broken wing courtesy, we surmised, of a collision with a powerline. I was put in charge of the bird. I rigged a cage from a metal freezer basket and kept her in it at night. During the day, I would take her out and let her pal around with me, perched on my shoulder, as we explored the edges of the half-acre fish pond we had on our place.
I did not--do not--know how to distinguish a male from a female mourning dove. In my mind, this one was female, so soft and smooth. Searching for a name for her one day, I spotted a duck on the pond who happened to have a tiny, loose feather balanced on its head. To me, it looked like a crown. That lead to me calling the dove Princess.
I do not not how long I had Princess. My fuzzy memory would like to say weeks. The adult in me says it was a matter of days. One of those days she was gone from her cage when I went to get her.
My parents assured me she had escaped, and I was eager to believe it. How she could have worked her way out of a cage that did not even have a door, I could not say. How she got through two doors and up a flight of stairs to the world beyond was a great mystery. She was gone though, so there you have it.
Weeks later I saw her again. My heart thrilled when the mourning dove with the broken wing flapped along the ground in front of me. I chased it, nearly catching it several times. I probably followed it a quarter mile, cooing to the bird and trying not to scare her. Just when I thought she had settled under a sagebrush and waited for me to pick her up, she would stumble and flap and half-fly off again. At last, I lost her in the bushes.
I ran home to tell Mom of my sighting. She was thrilled to think the bird was all right, just as she and Pop had thought she might be.
I was disappointed that I hadn’t caught her, of course. Still, I felt good knowing she was out there.
It was years later that I found out mourning doves are known for their strategy of feigning a broken wing to lead predators away from a nest.
It was years later, still, when I finally got around to asking Mom what had really happened with the bird. Mom was 90; I was 55. She deflected the question.
So, here I am with that small spark of hope in my heart that there is a mourning dove still out there who remembers me fondly, in spite of the best evidence that death claims us all.