Monday of this week was mild, so rather than go to the indoor track at the facility on campus to walk, I made the circuit of several blocks in my quiet neighborhood. To add time and distance to my exercise, I decided to go down a randomly chosen cul-de-sac. I soon wished I had stayed on my usual route, given the composition of the “welcoming committee” on the new street.

Vultures.

They were perched on the roof of a house at 2:00 o’clock on the street’s ending three-quarter circle. One extended his wings to full span—ominously, I imagined. The others just stared at me. I wondered: Do they know something I don’t? Am I going to drop dead of a heart attack in the street? Why did I watch The Birds on TCM? I considered turning on the cell phone in my pocket right then to save a step in case I had to call 911.

Nothing happened, but seeing those vultures during this season of Lent reminded me of my mortality as much as the ritual words of imposition on Ash Wednesday (“Remember, you are dust”). When I start to think of myself as at the top of the food chain, I need to recall that I could be some scavenger’s next meal. (See Romans 12:3 for a more refined way of putting the matter.)

I don’t know if the big, creepy birds will be there next time I turn down the little street, but I think the impression they made will be with me for a long time.

© 2008 by Tom Cheatham

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