How a Vulture Saved My Marriage

I’d promised myself I’d never have this fight again, and yet there I was – tired, exasperated, and tempted to give up.

We’d known for awhile that possums were living in our yard, but I had never seen one. Not until it lay dead in front of our driveway, having been struck by an unknown car.
As someone who believes in signs, the timing could not have been more ominous. My husband and I were in a fight that threatened to undo all we’d built. It wasn’t that anyone had done anything unforgivably vile. It was more that we were grappling with an issue we’d both thought was put to rest years ago.
To suddenly discover the flattening of time, to feel how quickly one trigger can strike down years of therapeutic progress, left me reeling in fear and confusion. Can people really change? I wondered. Are we kidding ourselves? I’d promised myself I’d never have this fight again, and yet there I was – tired, exasperated, and tempted to give up.
If we hadn’t had a daughter, I may have left right then. It would not have been the right choice, but it would’ve been easier on my pride. See, the danger of being good with words is you can sell even yourself on stories that protect your ego. And if you’re not careful, if you let your panic hold the pen, those stories can overwrite even the most beautiful life.
I stood outside, toddler on the hip, a million thoughts racing through my head. If this fight can never be settled, if it’s a cycle that will keep popping up, I just don’t think I can ever feel safe. But where would I go? How would I make it? What would happen to our little girl? I looked at the sprawling roadkill as though it were my reflection in an enchanted mirror. This must mean something, right? A death at my doorstep. The stink of a living thing leaving this world.
In times of indignation, it’s easy to play that emotional game of Connect-the-Dots, where I cue up every time I’ve been similarly hurt and draw from them a picture of myself as the victim. By focusing on the bad times, I bask in the righteousness of anger, rather than sort through the meaning of my sadness. Because the sadness does not speak to my heart only of pain. It also speaks of my profound love for the person who hurt me, it speaks of the memories where I have hurt him, and it speaks of the very precious bond we share that now feels so threatened.
Luckily, the apparition of a feathered neighbor interrupted my tale-spinning tailspin. Down swooped the vulture – an intimidatingly large, black bird – to peck at the carrion before us. Nervously, I glanced at my gal to see if she’d find this disturbing, but in classic kiddo fashion, she found nothing gruesome about nature’s way.
It was another level of serendipity, in fact; we had just read about vultures together. Actually, we had read about the goddess Mut, from E. A. Wallis Budge’s book, “The Gods of the Egyptians”. (Its neon green cover makes it a kid favorite to grab from the bookshelf.) Vultures, we learned, are revered by many cultures as excellent mothers to their young, and are celebrated for their resourcefulness in converting death into life. Mut, the World-Mother, wears a vulture headdress to signify the bird’s power for cleansing, renewal, and transformation.
“Do you know what kind of bird that is?” I asked, not expecting she’d get it right.
Without hesitation, she called my bluff. “It’s an eagletunity!”
Her clever wordplay may not have been on purpose, but it could not have been more on point. A vulture is a bird as noble as an eagle and humble enough to make meals from tragedy. Here I had an opportunity, a choice – to identify either with the one who’s been struck down, or the one who takes what’s left from that collision to grow stronger and keep soaring.
I laid my head on her cheek and let the lines dissolve between the dots I’d cherrypicked from my mind – memories of dumb mistakes, perceived betrayal, and reasons to blame. Yes, my partner and I have hurt each other. We don’t have to deny that, I realized, in order to move on. Doing so would feel phony, and prevent us from learning what we need to truly grow. What we can do instead is invite the spirit of Vulture to eat the dead parts of our hearts, whatever stories keep us locked in the worst patterns of our past.
Our suffering is not a waste, then. It’s not lost time. It’s not lost at all. It is the food of a holy bird, the one who finds nourishment where others see only a mess. Any marriage is made of many relationships, many versions of ourselves, that are going to die by no fault of our own. The question is, how do we deal with that kind of death? Do we let it rot inside us, or use what we can to feast on rebirth?
Is this not what matrimony is, in the end? A humble scouring beyond the obvious good times for whatever our family needs to thrive. If I have a choice – and I know I do – this is the story I want to believe. Because it’s never too late to rewrite it.