Prayer for Poachers and Parrots
Rev. Dr. LoraKim Joyner
(Inspired by and adapted from Bryan Stevenson, “Just Mercy”)
When I left the base of the tree I had a wet face and a broken heart.
A man had died poaching a nest of scarlet macaw chicks. He had fallen, killing one of the chicks he landed on, and her sibling was doomed to a life time with clipped wings and spirit-breaking conditions.
The lack of compassion I witnessed every day had come once again like a kick in the gut…
As I got up from the grave marker underneath the tree, I thought myself a fool for having tried to fix situations that were so fatally broken....
I was breaking open, taking in now how my life was just full of brokenness, as is everyone’s
I worked in a broken system of justice, where those with power merited more fairness, freedom, and flourishing than those without.
The people I worked with were broken by malnutrition, poverty, violence, corruption, racism, and classicism, and fatally flawed by the story that says more for me means less for you.
They were torn apart by disease, drugs and alcohol, pride, fear, anger, greed, and spiritual disillusionment.
The parrots I worked with were also broken; sometimes their very bones when they were ripped from their wild nests by the poachers who will sell them, exchanging a fist full of feathers for another of dollars.
I think of Rosa, a scarlet macaw with two broken wings and legs, suffering when taken from her nest, nearly dead before she was one.
I think of Lole, a yellow-naped amazon parrot, a broken leg, cat attacked, full of tapeworms, so weak, stunted, and unable to breathe I thought she would die in my hands. She made it to one year of age, but I don’t see how she will make it to two.
I think of Exodor, a black-hooded parakeet whose parents were killed with their heads cut off over a toilet bowl for being carriers of Pacheco’s virus. Exodor inherited the disease, with papillomas making his defecation difficult, and his pain exacerbated by his constant masturbation on his food dishes, the only parrot in his life.
I think of the poachers, broken by war, poverty, colonialism, and the drug trade, and their children, stunted by malnutrition and stress, educated to 6th grade if lucky, raised by grandparents who did not go in search of work in other lands, as did the parents
Entering the U.S. they are they are judged and condemned by people whose commitment to fairness had been broken by cynicism, hopelessness, and prejudice….
It has taken years to sort it out, but I realized something about me and the others gathered around the cross at the bottom of the towering macaw nest tree.
After working for more nearly 30 years in Latin American conservation, I understood that I don’t do what I do because it’s required or necessary, important, or will work.
I don’t do it because I have no choice.
I do what I do because I’m broken, too, because we all are, and the system to at its very core.
Animating my body was a deeper knowing that came from my years of struggling against animal abuse, oppression, poverty, economic inequality, habitat loss, and a spiritual malaise in humans born of the false story that we are separate or better than the others of different skin color, class, or species.
Being close to suffering, death, guerilla war, executions, extinction, and rape of earth and earth’s beings, didn’t just illuminate the brokenness of others;
In a moment of anguish and heartbreak, it also exposed my own brokenness.
You can’t effectively fight abusive power, poverty, inequality, illness, oppression, loss of biodiversity, extinction, or injustice and not be broken by it.
We are all broken by something.
We have all hurt someone and have been hurt.
We all share the condition of brokenness even if our brokenness is not equivalent.
I desperately wanted fairness and a chance for flourishing for poachers and the parrots they brutalize, and the pet owners who are the end of the line of a long chain of pain and tragedy.
I could no longer keep pretending that their struggle is disconnected from my own, and from yours, and from all of ours.
I want the chicks of all species to grow into free flying flourishing adults, though who knows how this is possible when others are hungry - the hawk and the poacher takes the parrot chick to feed her own, or the pet purchaser gets the parakeet to feed the family’s starved spirit.
The ways in which I have been hurt – and have hurt others – are different from the ways Central Americans and middle Americans suffer and cause suffering, and the ways predators hunt and consume prey.
But our shared pain, hunger, and brokenness connects us….
Sometimes we’re fractured by the choices we make.
Sometimes we’re shattered by things we would never have chosen.
And all of life is broken by rules we did not write that flow deep in our evolutionary telos.
But our brokenness is also the source of our common connection to all of life, to our animality, and to our humanity, the basis for our shared search for comfort, meaning, and healing.
Our shared vulnerability and imperfection nurtures and sustains our capacity for compassion….
Responding to the beauty that thrums through us all.
I heard of a minister that said before leading the congregation in song,
‘Make me to hear joy and gladness, that the bones which thou has broken may rejoice.’
Thinking of him, I see what our shared connection to all life is saying.
We all are broken, and beautiful….
Those who are part of the system that gives credence to the shameful ideology that human worth and needs are greater than avian, and that makes it possible to profit from birds in one way or another either as poachers, market distributors, pet store owners, pet food makers, pet owners, aviculturists, veterinarians, agriculturists and business people who promote sterilizing monoculture practices, destroying the land for people and parrots.
I am them, I have broken and I have been broken.
We all are broken and beautiful….
As are the protectors, the stewards, the conservationists, animal welfare advocates, parrot rescuers and liberators. They too suffer the same bludgeoning blow that fractures the ties that bind us to all life in beauty and brokenness.
Our tears beneath that tree are a cry to put down our hammers, our guns, our credit cards, and our judgment, freeing our hands, minds, and hearts to liberate the imprisoned, the caged, and the broken spirited.
In between the ground where bones broke and the sky from which beauty fell, may you my dear parrots, always fly free, and you, my human companions, let us walk together on the broken trail seeing beauty above us, below us, behind us, before us, in us, and all around us, every step moving us ever closer to cherishing our common animality.