Sparrows 3/22/23

Thoughts with Richard Bleil

Little birds have always fascinated and delighted me.  Here in the first few days of spring, I’m anticipating many more of them, but the truth is that they have visited and kept me company all winter long.  Yes, I put seed out, and peanuts.  And although they keep their distance as I do, I often speak with them, asking them not to eat the seed on my railing as I’m trying to grow the wood, but they never listen to me.

I have a habit of calling them “sparrows”, but I use the term as a “catch-all” word meaning small birds.  My mother, who used to love birds, never did like them.  When asked why, she replied “because they don’t sing.”  That may be, but they’re very cute and acrobatic.  Many other smaller birds “hang” with them, like a variety of finches who just look a little bit different.  I have had a new finch visiting lately, a very cute bird with an ivory-white chest and light great top.  I think it might be my new favorite.

As a child, I remember watching them on warm sunny days.  We never had bird feeders out, probably because they can be quite expensive to maintain, but we had trees so they frequently visited.  One of my favorite memories of my mother was the first time we saw a golden finch in the yard.  We had a parakeet that mom was always nervous about because she had heard how they escape and get lost.  Not realizing that the finch was a wild bird, mom went outside, in her robe, to try to “rescue” it.  It was far out of mom’s reach, but she put her finger up (no, not that finger) and started making kissy noises saying “come on, it’s okay”.  The finch just watched her like she was crazy.  When the golden finch’s mate showed up, mom realized that it was a wild bird.

My favorite thing was to watch them navigate the chain-link fence.  It fascinated me that the holes in the fence were just about the size of the bird’s body, if their wings were tucked in.  They certainly weren’t wide enough for the bird if the wings were outstretched as they were flying.  And yet, those birds would fly towards that fence at full speed, never once crashing into them.

I would (and still do) think about the physics behind this feat.  That bird has to have eyesight sufficient to make out the openings while flying at full speed, and the decisiveness to choose which hole it would fly through without hesitation as there was simply no time for it.  They would have to align their bodies just right to hit that opening, and the amazing reflexes to know the exact moment to pull in their wings.  If you’ve ever watched them, you realize that they don’t slow down, and their flight path doesn’t alter or dip even in the slightest.  They go through the fence like a projectile, opening their wings on the other side to continue their journey. 

This is a feat that I’ve never been particularly good at.  I feel as if I’ve rushed through life at full speed, made possible at least in part by sacrificing a wife and children (and, no, if you’re with the FBI, I mean that figuratively, not literally).  I’ve never been afraid to uproot, or try the next level in my career.  But when I’ve seen dangers in my path, obstacles to overcome, I’ve never known how to draw my wings in, and I’ve paid the price.  I’m proud of the engagements I’ve had and the prices I’ve paid in protecting others and standing up for what was right, but here I am with my wings clipped, feeling unable to move on from these collisions.

We all have choices on how to live our lives.  I’ve been fortunate in having the luxury to sabotage my own life and career without fear of bringing my family down with me, and I’ve done so more than once.  That doesn’t mean that everybody can do the same.

Wherever your flight path takes you in this life, I am here to support you.  You have to make the decisions that are right for you so you can go through those obstacles at full speed.  These little birds know the game and play it far more skillfully than ever I did.  Maybe my destination is no longer in the trees, and that’s okay.  I can still walk through this world in what remains of my life, satisfied that I faced those fences without fear.


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