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A few days ago, I was sleeping over at my friend’s house, and I was woken up by a cawing sound, the characteristic sound made by crows. While most people would be bothered to be woken up so early on a weekend, I was thrilled – crows are my favorite bird. On that early Sunday morning, a flock of crows was having a “meeting” on the roof of a neighboring house. They appeared to be arguing about something. I didn’t want to approach too close, because I know that crows may attack if they are disturbed when they meet in large communal groups. Among the crows, some were sitting on the end of the roof cawing out into the air to invite more crows into the meeting.

Crows are very emotional and social creatures, with surprisingly complex cognitive abilities and can be extremely vocal. Crows are also very intelligent, so I was not surprised at all to see them conversing in such a fashion. Crows and ravens have been known to use short words and phrases, and even understand the context of human language. Crows are very vocal about their emotions and extremely stubborn/persistent when confronted with a task they have trouble completing. They have advanced planning abilities and are able to use tools. They also have active problem-solving skills. They enjoy solving problems much in the way that I like solving algebra problems.

Sometimes I like to think of myself as an honorary crow, because we have so much in common. I remember when my friend Rae was alive; we used to go out into the woods behind the SPCA where we volunteered to see if we could find crows. She loved crows just as much as I did. Now that she is gone, I am reminded of her every time I see a crow. At her funeral, there were so many crows in attendance, almost like they knew they had lost one of their own. 

After going outside and observing the crows on the roof of the house, I had a strong flashback of Rae. I remember her laughter, and whenever she was helping animals, even cleaning cages at the SPCA, she was so happy. I also remembered us playing with her puppy, Ozzy. He was one of Rehtaeh’s many pets. One day she dropped a piece of lettuce on the floor when she was on the way out to feed her bunnies (they have a big outdoor run in her backyard). Ozzy grabbed the lettuce with his teeth and started running around the living room with the lettuce hanging out of his mouth. Once he saw us watching, he began acting even sillier. He tried to run up the stairs, but since he’s small and fat he tripped on the mat and slid back down the stairs. We were laughing for at least 5 minutes. When he heard us laughing he ran towards us. Rae leaned down to grab the lettuce from his mouth, but before she got to him he sharply turned his back to her and started running around again. Just thinking back on our laughter from that day filled me with sadness, because I just miss her so much, even though she was in my life for such a short period of time.

In many countries, crows are considered a symbol of death, but the fact that crows are highly social and able to make friends with humans and other animals symbolizes to me man’s ability to live in harmony with death. As primates, we understand the concept of death on a level that not many other species do. What astounds me is how most people manage to come to terms with this concept of infinity and nothingness, and carry on with our lives, ignoring their impending fate. Most people live in oblivion of the fact that life has very little meaning because we are all going to die someday. And people don’t seem to get that when we die, we will remember nothing, so it really won’t matter what we did in our life or what we went through.

Whenever I think like this, I think about how selfish my sadness is. Sometimes I go from sad to completely indifferent about Rae’s death, because I think that the only reason why I’m sad is because I miss her. Her death may be a catastrophe for the people that she had in her life, but it certainly doesn’t bother her anymore. She’s at rest. She is gone, and she is never coming back.

Whenever people are suicidal or depressed, they are labelled mentally ill by society. Mentally ill implies there is something wrong with them, or that they are somehow faulty. I don’t agree with this label. I think mentally ill people have a gift and a special sensitivity – they can see the world for what it truly is, and they are touched by the wrongdoings in the world much more deeply than most. Most people live their life in a very self-centered way, caring only about themselves and their families. This is okay for them in the short run, but too many people living this way is destroying our planet. Rae saw that, and it upset her too. It deeply touched her, as it did me. I think we ended up in the SPCA for the same reason. We wanted to make a difference in the lives of animals. We can’t change the world, but when we help an animal their world is changed forever.

Crows also represent to me that death is always near, because you never know when you will die, but this is no reason to fear crows, or death. Through Rae and through crows I have learned that you must embrace life while you still can, because life is so short. Rae taught me the hard way that life is over before you know it. She fought so hard to overcome her issues – she didn’t go down easily. She was one of the strongest people I knew. This is why I feel empowered when I see crows – I am reminded that life is short, and I need to live life to the fullest, not only for me, but in memory of those whose lives were cut short.

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