[Awfully late in posting the text to this one. You can see the original Howieburner here, for free. ]
Ladies and Gentlemen, in the immortal words of Tony Montana, “say hello to my little friend…”
This is Howie. I’ve been taking care of him for almost a week now, and during that time Howie has taught me a lot of things.
A few years ago, Dana and I bought an airplane: this little beauty right here. It’s called a Sky Arrow:
Last Sunday, after several weeks of being grounded for various reasons, we decided to go flying, and during the preflight inspection I noticed something buried deep in the engine cowling. It was a bird’s nest. And when I pulled it out… there was Howie.
Now, as it turns out, Howie and I have a lot in common. Like most fledglings, Howie went through an awkward stage. Even four days ago, he wasn’t the handsome little dude you see here today.
He’s not the only one. Many of us flyers start out just a tiny bit dorky and slowly, over time, manage to grow into our feathers.
When Howie first came home, I couldn’t get him to eat anything. Howie refused to take food and spent the day pressing up against the bars of his cage, pushing to find a way to get out. But over time – just a few days, really – something has changed.
Howie is starting to lose his inborn drive to be free. He is starting to become dependent. And I wonder if this isn’t what’s happening to all of us, as a country.
Those of us who see the dangers in the nanny state often think of the growth of government into more and more areas of our lives as an intentional, and ultimately evil thing – because we can foresee the consequences. But I had none of those motivations when I started feeding Howie. I just wanted him to be as strong as he could be so when he’s old enough to set free he’ll have the odds on his side.
What I have learned from Howie is that we are bleeding freedoms not because people want to enslave us but because they genuinely want to help and protect us. There are predators out there, and parasites, and it’s cold and wet, and there’s no guarantee he’ll find food or shelter and I don’t want to risk any of that because I’ve been hand feeding him and I’m responsible for him and I just love this little guy.
I no longer want to make him strong so I can release him. I want to keep him. I want to watch out for him and make sure he’s a safe and fat little bird. Even if it means he can only hear the birds outside and never join them, only flap his wings from sunrise to sunset and flutter around in this little cage, and not become a bird at all – which is what he is supposed to be – but become, in the end, nothing more than my toy because when it is all said and done I was too selfish and too afraid to let him be what he wants to be, and needs to be, and was made to be.
When we feed and clothe and make dependent people who – unlike this little fledgling – are perfectly capable of feeding and clothing themselves and being free and independent as they were meant to be… when we do those things we construct our own cages, step into the warm, comfortable, downy softness and pull the door closed behind us.
The Book of Matthew it says that not a sparrow falls without God knowing it. For most of my adult life I’ve believed that all that we see is all that there is: just bone and skin and feathers. I believe absolutely that little Howie’s perfect form is the result of millions of years of evolution and natural selection… in fact, millions of years ago, Howie’s ancestors were three times my height and mine were about his size. Bottom rail on top now, huh Howie?
Howie’s brain – charitably – is about the size of a pea. Mine’s about the size of a cantaloupe. Sitting here, right now Howie’s only aware that he’s safe and warm and that this monstrous huge hairless primate attached to a plastic tube is his mommy.
That’s all Howie is capable of, given the pea. What we, with the cantaloupes perceive is that what you are seeing is an image focused by a cleverly shaped piece of glass onto microscopic pieces of silicon, which generate the most impossibly small little pulses of lightning. These pulses travel at the speed of light to an air-conditioned room where they are written to magnetic disks spinning at 150 revolutions per second, and from there they travel on beams of coherent light circling the world five times in the blink of an eye, so that someone in Hawaii, or Singapore, or New York can see a picture of a little bird – not just now, but for months, or years, or maybe even centuries into the future.
Now obviously, Howie is aware of none of this. Because he just has the little pea to work with, you see? But if there’s that much difference between a pea and a cantaloupe, how is it that I once believed that there is nothing beyond the perception of a cantaloupe made of grey jelly?
Mathematics and logic make a compelling case for this being an eleven-dimensional universe, of which we directly experience three as we drift along the fourth, which we perceive as “time.” The universe has been expanding for 15 billion years. Expanding into what? And what was there before the Big Bang?
See? Now we’re reaching the limit of the cantaloupe. Perhaps if I had a watermelon I’d know the answers to those questions!
The distance between Howie and me – between the pea and the cantaloupe – may not be much less than the distance between myself and a greater being who’s perceptions and powers are as far beyond me as mine are beyond Howie’s, and who may in fact note the fall of every sparrow. And if he does, I hope he takes special note of this one. I hope he will lift him – and all of us, too – up and out of the four dimensions of space and time the way I first lifted Howie out of his broken nest, and for the same unlikely reason that this hairless primate cares for this little bird: because he can.
And perhaps you can find a way to go out and do intentionally what we did by accident: go do one small, good thing. You may have a future family member sitting alone in a steel cage at an animal shelter right now, shivering in fear. You can’t do much about the economy or Iran or any of the rest of it, but you can go out – right now – and save a little life. If events in the world have been getting you down, saving one small life that would not have been saved without you… well, that’s the cure, right there.
I have to go now. We have to set little Howie free. I’m gonna miss him. This little guy taught me a lot.
(Epilogue: The day after I wrote this, Dana and I took Howie to the California Wildlife Center. He’ll spend a week or so indoors getting weaned and learning Finch from other little finches, then he’ll spend two weeks in an outdoor aviary getting his flight training before being released with his entire cohort into the scenic birdie paradise of Malibu Canyon. I couldn’t see a thing on the drive home, I was so upset. It’s funny, isn’t it. how things can come from deep left field and move you in ways you didn’t even know you could be moved. Damn, how we miss that little bird.)