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CONNECTIONS | MAGAZINE

How rescuing a runaway chicken in the city taught me about accepting others

The absurdity of chasing “Mr. Cluck” around made me realize I could love someone even while frustrated with them.

The unexpected guest, “Mr. Cluck,” at the writer’s home in the Back Bay.from barrett rollins

My wife, Lynn, is a major animal lover. It’s one of her most endearing traits even when it complicates our lives. Once, when we were visiting her sister Lorraine, Lynn took our two dogs for a walk and returned with a third: a stone-deaf little guy she’d found wandering leashless. It took us a while to figure out that he belonged to the family across the street. Since then, the ribbing’s been merciless.

“Hey, Lynn. See that dog chained in the yard over there behind the six-foot fence? He looks lost. Wanna rescue him?”

Hilarious but unfair.

Then a real rescue entered our lives. Zeke was a puppy Lynn fell for while volunteering at Animal Rescue League of Boston. His energy was driving us — OK, mostly me — crazy. Lucky for him, he was adorable.

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Among the delights of remarriage after “widowerhood” — if you’re lucky — is being welcomed into a new family. I’d hit the jackpot with Lorraine and her daughter Lynn (named after her aunt, my wife). They’d come to Boston to meet Zeke and after dinner one night, Lynn and Lynn took him for a walk while Lorraine cleaned up. I retired to the living room to stare slack-jawed at the walls before the dog walkers returned with their chaos.

Before I could settle in, the dog-bark ringtone of Lorraine’s phone sounded. It was Niece Lynn calling to say that a chicken was strutting down the Commonwealth Avenue mall. Lynn had tried calling animal control, whose response was, basically, Let the chicken wander, we’ll look for it tomorrow.

“That’s utterly unacceptable,” Lynn said, when Lorraine and I found her. “Go home and get a blanket to capture it.” I was in no mood. Zeke’s hyperactivity had put me on edge and I now resented this chicken’s very existence — an overreaction, I’ll admit.

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As I considered my options, the bird suddenly hopped onto a park bench. Without thinking, I leaned over and grabbed it, tucking its wings into its body. It nestled quietly in the crook of my arm. “Let’s get this thing home,” I muttered.

Back at our apartment, Niece Lynn suggested that we put the chicken, whom she’d named Mr. Cluck — we hadn’t the heart to tell her it was a hen — into a dog crate, so I gently placed Mr. Cluck in her new home. Staring up at us, she promptly relieved herself.

Then, using words like “brave” and “hero” without a trace of irony, Lynn told me how amazing I’d been when I’d grabbed Mr. Cluck. I asked her to stop; she was making me uncomfortable. I was mad about the way these animals had disrupted our lives but thoroughly ashamed of my anger because it was directed at a manifestation of Lynn’s compassion.

This shame felt familiar. A decade earlier, I’d cared for my wife while she was dying of breast cancer. Painfully — and ironically, given that we were both oncologists — she’d hidden her illness for years until a medical emergency forced her to reveal it. Her deception had infuriated me and, although my reaction might have been justified, I was still ashamed of it.

But, as weird as it may seem, the chicken episode was helping me feel less guilty. The sheer absurdity of Mr. Cluck’s rescue somehow made it easy to see that I could still love Lynn despite being annoyed at her for the fowl in our foyer. Well, if I could do that, then maybe I could feel both tenderness toward my late wife’s memory and anger at her behavior without torturing myself. That was an insight worth capturing a chicken for. I slept soundly.

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The next morning I went to check on Mr. Cluck. The crate was empty. Lynn had called animal control again. This time someone came right away to retrieve the chicken, thanking Lynn profusely for taking such good care of her.

I was sorry I hadn’t said goodbye.


Barrett Rollins is an oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Tell your story. Email your 650-word essay on a relationship to connections@globe.com. Please note: We do not respond to submissions we won’t pursue.