Thursday, October 4, 2007

The Sparrow

This morning, a sparrow awoke in her nest under the eaves of the blue house. The same blue house she’d seen every day, but today she noticed something new. She stood on her tiny legs and stretched herself out. She spread her delicate wings and felt the wind across her feathers. She swooped down into the lower branches of the tree to better examine this new development of consciousness that was threatening to disrupt the sameness of her days.

She heard something. No, she heard someone. Someone with a high, nasal human voice. The sparrow landed lightly at the window ledge and listened for a moment. Why was she suddenly interested in these people that she’d seen each day for weeks? Still not understanding, but taking little time to wonder, the sparrow found herself looking into the life of another.

The sparrow watched quietly as the human woman, a mother, fed her young. She listened while the mother spoke softly to her child about the wonderful day ahead. She strained to hear the soft song this mother sang to her child as she led him to the front door, just below the sparrow’s ledge. As the mother bent to hold her child close before sending him out into the world, the sparrow moved closer to see the smile she gave her son.

Thinking very un-sparrow like thoughts, she suddenly realized how like herself this human was. How she cares for her young, sings to him, and sets him out on his own each day. The sparrow was so impressed with herself for having made this connection, she took to flight around the woman as she watched her son walk away. She sang while she swooped low near the woman, and felt a lightness rare even for one so typically easygoing. She wanted to show her new friend that she understood, and that she loved her for her simple motherhood role.

A few feet away grew some small purple flowers. Not the kind the woman planted, which drew bees and hummingbirds, but forgotten flowers, hiding in the shade of the fence. The sparrow flew down and snatched one in her beak and returned to the woman, eager to bestow this gift on her new friend. As she hopped back to the woman, she noticed a change in her. As soon as the boy was out of sight the woman’s face fell. Her shoulders, which had been held high and tall a moment ago, were now rounded and bent as if something was literally pulling them down. Gently, the sparrow dropped the tiny flower at the woman’s foot. With a heavy sigh the woman looked down and reached for the flower. She turned, now moving very slowly, and retreated back into the blue house.

Sensing something wrong, the sparrow returned to the window to watch over her fellow mother. Now, sparrows don’t normally make connections with humans, so this was quite new for her. She saw the woman sit down in front of a stack of papers. The woman seemed to look at each page for only a second before dropping it into a stack at her feet. She made notes as she did this, and seemed to grow more agitated as she worked. The woman opened her purse and withdrew a small wallet. She opened it and removed smaller green papers. She picked up the stack of papers and sorted them, placing each into an envelope with a little bit of green paper. When she had no more green paper to place with the envelopes, she picked up the many remaining papers and held them in her lap for a moment before standing abruptly and throwing them to the floor.

Something made a loud shrill noise in the house, taking the mother by surprise. She picked up a small black thing and started talking into it. She sounded so sad. She said words that the sparrow didn’t understand, words like Rent and Groceries and Bills. The sparrow flapped against the window and called out to her. She wanted to comfort this mother. As the mother grew more agitated, so did the sparrow. The woman yelled into the black box, and her voice no longer sounded lovely and melodic as it had only minutes before. It sounded desperate. As the woman’s voice grew louder, the sparrow was overcome by fear and sadness. She tucked her head into her wings to try to hide from the pain she felt coming from this woman. Why should a sparrow feel like this? Why did she stay there, when she hurt so much from just being a witness to this person’s anguish?

With her head tucked down, she did not notice the woman had stopped yelling. When the sparrow slowly raised her head, she saw the woman was on the floor, with her head tucked into her arms very much as the sparrow had been. Her body did not lie still. It trembled and heaved. The sparrow beat against the window. She screeched while she battered her own little body in her fury. Seeing this woman prostrate and despondent filled the sparrow with so much wretched torment that it weighed her down as effectively as stones. The harder the sparrow hurled herself at the window, the more she knew it was no longer in an attempt to comfort the woman with her presence, but to escape her own torment at feeling even a small part of this woman’s anguish. Again and again she flew into the window until at last, exhausted and broken, she fell to the ground.

Many hours later, the son returned and, as children are wont to do, he noticed the sparrow on the ground. Gently he picked her up and cried out when he saw the blood in her eyes. To the woman he ran holding the ruined body of the bird. In her son’s absence the woman had allowed herself to fall apart but had regained her composure with his expected return. She took the sparrow, and realizing she was dead, explained to her young son that sometimes life was simply too harsh for such a small thing. Something stirred in this woman who had not even noticed the sparrow. Never before today, though the sparrow had been living right in front of her. And not once while she’d sobbed in despair at the complications in her life while her pain ripped the little sparrow apart. In her ignorance she envied the sparrow’s freedom from such tragedy.