I clenched my teeth and held my breath as the covey of quail darted under my car. They had shot out of the bushes and into the street so swiftly, I didn’t have time to swerve to miss them. I took one hand off the steering wheel and dropped it to my chest when I heard a thud. In the rearview mirror, the reflection flailed and flapped on the pavement behind me. He appeared to be tethered to the road by one lone, shattered leg.
I was on the phone with a friend—legally, hands-free—discussing the end of a long, frustrating week. I was worn out, disheartened, irritated, grumpy: a whole host of my least-favorite feelings. The outside world of politics, and disturbing news reports coupled with my inside world of strained family relationships, interpersonal conflicts, the knowledge I was driving home to an empty house (the kiddos were away for the evening) and discouraging, rude reader feedback about the inclusion of all community members in the city magazine I headed, had me on the verge of an emotional implosion. And without warning, a writhing quail was left in the wake of my path.
“Oh no!” I said. “I just ran over a quail. What do I do? I have to go back for him.”
My friend encouraged me to keep driving. Stephanie, he said, there isn’t anything you can do.
“I’m going to let you go, let’s connect later,” I said as I promptly dropped the call.
I kept my eye on the rearview mirror, feeling tugged in two directions. “Keep driving,” I said. “Just. Keep. Driving.” And then, more activity in the mirror’s reflection: the balance of the covey returned to the injured quail, running about, stretching their peculiar little heads closer to him. “Turn around now,” I said, not knowing what I would do or how I could help him. No plan presented itself, but I could at least scoop him up off the road and lay him in a shady, grassy spot near his family.
By the time I turned around and made my way back to the scene, the injured quail was a spiritless flattened bloody mess of feathers pressed into the pavement. The vehicles behind me had, apparently, continued the insult on the little guy. I stopped in the middle of the road and rolled down my window to be sure there was no life left to be saved. The crying and squawking of the covey from the bushes triggered my own tear factory and I gave into the emotional implosion that had been haunting me all week. The other quail had run back for him. And now they were audibly crying from the side of the road. “They ran back for him,” I mumbled, as tears burned my eyes and fell from my cheeks.
There are fellow Americans who have—and will—become injured by life; sometimes their injuries will take them out entirely, much like the quail left lifeless in the hustle of a roadway. The traumas we may face present themselves in a host of visible ways—broken and bloodied by accidents or assaults—and in some not so easy to see: oppression, heartache, disconnect, emotional trauma, poverty. I thought of the way the covey ran back for their fellow quail, and I knew I wanted to be the kind of human who runs back toward others—regardless of their country of origin, the shade of their skin, their socioeconomic stage, their gender identity, their age, their idiosyncrasies. I want to run back for others.
I made my way home, and sat on the back porch in the sunshine, texting my best friend that I was a bit of a mess and was going to lay low for the evening. I thanked her for the invitation to join in festivities with her and other friends, but I had to pass. My two little dogs were thrilled to have me home and stationary, and they tried to clean up my puffy face with their canine kisses. I wanted to pour a glass of wine to help melt it all away, but realized I needed to lean into the burn of hurt and wade through all of the thoughts swirling in my head. I disengaged from social media for the evening and took the dogs for a walk around the park, soaking in the warm summer air.
When I returned home, a text from another friend was waiting for me: a thoughtfully designed meme that said, “Beautiful girl, you can do hard things.”
“How did you know I needed to hear that?” I asked her. She said I had been on her mind and she saw the meme and knew she had to share it with me. “Thank you for thinking of me,” I said. And I smiled knowing she had “run back” for me, without fully realizing it. I love how a simple act of kindness can alter the path—whether we see it or not—of another person. I love our country and the freedom and possibility for each and every one of us when everyday simple acts of kindness become a way of being, and . . . when we run back for one another.