"Just take another step. Sometimes, that's all you can do, my sunshine. Is to just keep stepping."
His voice echoed in her head as she sat straight up in her bed, her long hair a sweaty mess across her back and face. Her eyes turned to the window of the tiny room in which her cot lay. She did not recall where she was, or how she had come to be in this room, but she could smell the feverish nature of her sweat.
"Ugh.." She pressed a hand to her head and winced. The fever was gone, but her head was throbbing. The throbbing of her heart nearly made it unnoticeable, however. These past few days, or weeks perhaps, she'd been haunted by memories. Memories and pain she'd thought she had successfully set aside.
She thought she was past the pain, at least. She never wanted to forget all the love which helped her grow into who she was this day...in fact, the pain also helped her grow. But why did it all crash on her now? Every object, every word, everything...brought her back to the memories which were the best of her life. The ones which now brought her the most pain.
Her father's words echoed in her head again. Her mind went back to the dream, nay, memory she'd been having when she awakened.
"Papa! The sparrow...the one I was caring...the one I loved and...and was taking care... " Her words broke from tears and her father gathered her into his arms immediately.
"Oh, Lissi. Birds weren't meant to be cared for by our hands. Not tree-birds like sparrows, at least." She didn't understand. How could it have died when she cared for it so diligently? It seemed happy...
"I'll bury it. We can put a small stone over it to remember, if you want?" He brushed her tears away as she nodded, holding the bird up to him. Its gay yellow beak now turning purple and its eyes forever stilled. How could such innocent, sweet existence be simply snuffed out so?
After they buried it, Lissi did not leave the grave for what seemed to her to be hours. "Come, Sunshine. Evening is falling to night now," her father's gentle voice prompted. She stood, but did not move. "But Papa," she whispered, "-my chest is hurting. What if I forget him? His soft feathers...his insistent chirping..." She paused and sobbed a moment. "How can I leave his little grave? How can I live when he's gone now?" In her ten winters, her innocence was only just now beginning to be marred by the cold cruel reality of the world. She had yet to understand what a tragedy the loss of her mother when she was a babe, truly was. But in years to come, she would begin to feel it.
Her dear papa felt it now, as he tried to swallow the tears that came to his eyes. He took her hand and gently led her toward their home.
"Live with his memory, so he lives on. Keep loving him. Just take another step. Sometimes, that's all we can do, my sunshine, is just keep stepping." With those words, he picked her up and carried her home.
Now, as she remembered this, her eyes became over full with tears and they slid down her cheeks noiselessly. It felt silly, having such heartache over a bird back then, when she was to lose so much more between then and now. And yet...it marked the beginning...the smallest, first taste of true loss. As she remembered the bird and all other loved ones she'd lost in life, she mourned the loss of the young sparrow still. The beauty and innocence of that bird.
Yet now, as she pondered all those whom she had lost, she swore she would never let grief from so much sudden loss make her forget to mourn what the world saw as "the small things". Nor would her grief steal the time she had to appreciate the beauty and love around her.
Nay. She had a duty to fulfill. A job to do. Part of that was to help others around her to experience love and see beauty when they thought they could no longer.
She was healing still. She was not weak, and was ever becoming stronger. Soon, the day would come when experiencing the loss of people she loves, would be used to aid others in growth and healing.
In a way, she was a sparrow fledgling too, growing into maturity. When she was meant to, she would soar higher than she could ever have imagined.