or, “What am I?”
I’m a little bird. They told me so.
From the moment light spilled through the cracks in my little shell,
And I felt the rush of air around my downy self,
I knew I was alive. I knew I was. But I didn’t know what I was.
I knew I was here, wherever that is. I knew that I saw, and felt, breathed,
But I didn’t know what I saw, and felt, and breathed.
That’s when they told me. They told me I was a bird.
They said, “Birds have wings, and you have wings!”
“Birds have beaks, just look at yours!”
“Birds have feathers, yours are so soft right now.”
“Welcome to the world.” They said.
“It’s good to be a bird.” They said.
They told me birds are made for flying.
They said that’s why God gave me wings.
It sounded like such fun, flying.
“You just are carried by the air!”
“It is glorious to be a bird upon the air!”
I would listen to my fellow birds talk of flight,
Of all the sights they would see,
Of all the things they would experience on the wing.
They spoke of such joy, of how much meaning flying gave to their lives.
They all seemed so happy.
But as I grew older, I walked like a bird and I talked like a bird,
But I never could fly. I would teeter to the edge of the branch,
And gaze out into the world.
I would look to my left, and to my right.
So many of those birds that told me I was a bird were sitting there with me.
I realized I had never seen them fly. Not once.
In fact, many of them had gotten fat, and lazy, and bitter.
They would point their wings at one another and peck at each other’s flaws.
Occasionally I would even see the real birds.
They would be soaring and darting and gliding on the air.
I wondered how they could. I couldn’t see the air.
They spoke of feeling the rush of the wind as you flew,
But I never felt it. I began to question.
“How do we know there even is an air?
How do we even know that we are birds?”
Somebody just told me that once. I guess I believed them.
But now I was starting to wonder just how this could be so.
It seemed like a good way to get hurt, leaping from the branch like that.
I didn’t feel like a bird. I never really did.
In fact, sometimes I fancied myself a squirrel.
Sometimes they would scurry up the tree by me, and they seemed happy.
It seemed like such fun. It seemed so satisfying.
I had two legs. If I twitched them just right, I could scurry right along with them.
I didn’t need to fly to be a squirrel. This was something I could do.
This was something I could even be good at.
“Am I a squirrel?” I thought.
The birds around me would scoff at the squirrels.
They would make fun of the squirrels.
They would even persecute them for not being able to fly.
“Why should we judge them? The squirrels weren’t made for flying!”
I wanted to ask this, but I was afraid the birds would make fun of me.
I was afraid they would discover how I felt –
That maybe I was a squirrel too.
Confused, and hurt, and suffering,
I did not know what I was.
I did not know who I was or why.
If I am a bird, then surely I am the worst that’s ever been.
And as I look about these birds that never leave the branch,
And stay here bickering about the squirrels,
The more I feel I do not wish to be a bird.
Suddenly, I feel a gush of air –
A shadow covers me –
A massive Owl, with wings spread wide,
Swoops to the branch beside me.
He looks at me with piercing eyes.
“Why aren’t you flying, little bird?” He asks.
“Oh, I have been! I was just flying the other day!” I lie, just like I always do.
“I don’t think so. I fly by here regularly, and I’ve never seen you on the wing.”
Ashamed, I lower my head.
“Can I be honest?” I ask. “I’ve never flown before.”
The Owl cocks his head before responding.
O: “Why not? You’re a bird aren’t you?”
B: “You know what? I’m not sure I even am a bird anymore.”
O: “Birds are made for flying. Can you fly?”
O: “Let me ask you a question. What is needed for flight?”
B: “I know all the answers, Sir. I just haven’t seen it work for me.”
O: “I know you know the answers. But tell me what they are, anyway.”
B: “… Feathers, and wings, and …”
B: “That’s my problem, sir. I don’t think I believe in air, anymore.”
O: “So how did I just swoop over to this branch?”
B: “See, I don’t think you’re actually flying. I don’t believe in air.”
O: “I saw your feathers ruffle when I approached. That was air from my wings. You must have felt that.”
B: “I did. I can’t explain that, but it couldn’t have been air. If air was real, then I could fly! Feathers, wings, and air! That’s what a bird needs to fly! If there is air, then why can’t I fly!?”
O: “You’re wrong. There’s one thing missing from your list. There’s one more thing needed to fly.”
B: “Oh great. Like it wasn’t complicated enough.”
O: “It’s not complicated. The air is real. I think you know that, no matter what you say. Maybe you’ve convinced your head there is no air, but your heart knows otherwise. But no matter what you think, the air is not the problem.”
B: “It’s because I’m not a good enough bird, right? I’m not a large Owl, like you? Is that it?”
O: “No. That has nothing to do with it. The air will carry any bird that steps off the branch in faith.”
B: “You know how ridiculous you sound? I don’t mean any disrespect, but faith in what? Something I can’t see, and there is no evidence for?!”
The Owl takes a step back on the branch, spreads his wings incredibly wide, and begins to flap them back and forth with all his might.
I feel the rushing of wind, and I can hear it whoosh by my head.
The warmth wraps around me. It slides in and out of my feathers.
It cools my skin. The Owl raises his voice with authority as he continues to flap his wings.
O: “The air is real, little bird! Do not deceive yourself! You can feel it, you can see what it does! Now to believe you are a bird – YOU MUST FLY! You must take a leap – a leap of faith!”
The Owl lets his wings rest, and the rushing winds stop, and he grows very soft and quiet.
O: “But I cannot do it for you, little bird. I could push you off this branch, but it would only kill you. You must leap from the branch yourself, with wings spread wide in faith. I hope you give it a try, little bird. It will make all the difference in the world. Believe with your heart and mind together. Don’t just do the thing that makes sense. Flying does not make sense. Don’t just do the thing that feels right, that first step does not always feel right. But once you try it, believe me, it will feel right and you will know it is right. You know how I know this, little bird? Because you are a bird, and you were made for flying. I know this because I am a bird, and I have flown. I know this not because I was told I am a bird, but because I have proved to myself through faith that I am a bird. Good luck, little bird. I hope to see you on the wing soon. It’s where you belong. It is where you will find joy and meaning.”
The Owl spreads his wings once more, and leaps from the branch and begins to soar higher and higher until I can see him no more.
I don’t know what to think. I could feel the wind, but I don’t know that I can take that step, that I can make that leap. I . . .
Suddenly a gust of air, powerfully driving from the North, makes the tree sway. It pushes on me, and on my branch, and I lose my footing….
I feel my feet leave the branch of the tree as it rises higher and higher above me.
The wind is rushing violently about me, I can see the ground below coming into clearer focus and it rushes to greet me.
I spread my wings as I am about to die.
The ground never reaches me. I feel the sensation of being lifted.
Higher… Higher… I open my once clenched eyes to be greeted by the brilliant rays of the sun…
The air wraps around me, over me, under my wings, continually lifting me up…
I feel the air. I feel it. I know it. I am flying.
I am a bird, not because anyone told me I am a bird.
I am bird because birds are made for flying.
I am a bird because I can fly.
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
Hebrews 11:1 esv