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How to Save a Life

Health Union ( brought their writers to their headquarters in Philadelphia. In one of the workshops, we were encouraged to write about a pleasant memory or experience. After writing mine, I considered why this brief experience brought me such joy. As a longtime lung cancer advocate, I saw a striking parallel to my passion and my backyard experience.

A familiar sound

I had a thousand things on my mind as I carried the groceries from the garage to the house. However, as I was passing through the breezeway, I heard something that stopped me dead in my tracks.

Several birds were frantically squawking as if crying for help. I had heard that sound before—twice, in fact—in the 20-plus years I’ve lived in this house. The first time was about 15 years ago. A hawk’s powerful talons had pinned a bird to the ground. Instinctively, I rushed to the smaller bird’s defense. “Not on my watch!” I told the hawk as it reluctantly let the bird go.

Then, about a year ago, I heard a similar ruckus. I was on my deck early in the morning drinking a cup of coffee. Just as I looked up to see what all the commotion was about, I saw a magnificent bald eagle soar overhead! Several smaller birds were flying all around the eagle as if trying to chase it away.

Standing up for the little guy

You see, for years I have fed the birds in my yard. I lure them onto my property with food. So I feel a sense of responsibility to protect them, at least when one of them is under attack right under my nose!

So that spring day when I heard all the chatter, I knew something was up!  I could not ignore their urgent cries for help! I dropped my grocery bags right on the breezeway and ran in the direction of the commotion. The sound seemed to be coming from the yard adjoining my backyard.

Aha! There was a hawk with a young bird pinned to the ground! The bird’s apparent relatives were making all the noise. I rushed toward the hawk who let go of its prey to get out of my reach. As the young bird was regaining its composure and catching its breath, the hawk struck again! I headed toward the hawk again. This time the hawk gave up. After a couple of minutes, it flew away. The young bird was reunited with its family and there was calm in the neighborhood.

I understand hawks kill to eat. It is a necessary part of the circle of life. But something wonderful, almost spiritual, had just taken place. I felt such a sense of fulfillment. I had saved a life. Yes, it was “only” a bird. But it was a life. If I had not happened upon the scene when I did, there would be one less bird in the world.

Finding parallels

I was happy all day thinking about saving that bird. It wasn’t until the writing exercise at Health Union that I began to understand the significance of that pleasant memory. The simple act of saving an ordinary bird filled me with such joy. Here’s why. In my day-to-day life, I try to help people with lung cancer. Frankly, sometimes it seems as if I am not making a bit of difference where it really matters. What I truly want to do is save lives. In reality, though, I can’t do that. Our lives are in the hands of our Creator. We can all do our part, of course, but no more.

Saving this bird, though, was a special gift. That small act encouraged me in a way I still don’t fully understand. I simply accept it. It’s like the story of the little girl throwing a beached starfish back into the sea. A bystander watching her said, “There are too many starfish, you can’t save them all! You can’t make a difference!”

The little girl paused and thought, then picked up another and tossed it back into the water. “Well, for that one I made a difference!” She replied.

Shooing a hawk away allowed me to feel as if I truly made a difference. And to that young bird in the hawk’s talons, indeed, I did.

Sharing hope

When we advocate for lung cancer patients, or act as caregivers, or share hope with others facing difficult battles, it may feel as if we aren’t doing anything “big.” We feel powerless to fix the problem and save them. But for the people whose lives we touch, trust that you are making a difference for that one.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.