“One problem I see with those of us who want to be humane is that while we invariably support calls for justice at a macro level, some of us are not above taking advantage in our personal, day-to-day dealings. I once rented a room in a house full of Marxists, and one of them was one of the least just individuals I’ve ever met. Yet he regularly marched in favor of justice for the oppressed peoples of this world. If we want peace, it’s essential that we be peaceful. And if we want justice, we have to be just—down to the smallest transactions. I think a lot of people can agree with this easily. But there are always “grey areas.” That’s where we have to be especially disciplined and thoughtful.” -Mark Bittner, We Must Be Just, April 2013

Monday, July 1, 2013

Jane's Journey - To Soar, or Not To Soar

Within Jane’s local community is an aviary. Recently, one of their birds took flight during a training session that was preparing it to be an addition to the bird show. Word was quickly spread throughout the community about the wayward bird, with an appeal to the public to inform the aviary if, and where, the bird was spotted. Soon enough a call came in from a local individual. The bird was safely collected and returned to the aviary.

As Jane read this story, she remembered a documentary she watched not too long ago, “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill”(1). The film is about a man by the name of Mark Bittner. During this time in his life he was living on Telegraph Hill in San Francisco, when he began to care for wild parrots. He didn’t take them in as pets, they remained wild. The parrots didn’t depend on him for survival, even though he fed them.

Mr. Bittner formed connections with several of the birds and they with him. Many of them were given names. At times, there were injured birds that he took in and cared for. He arranged for medical treatment when necessary, caged the injured birds for a time, and when they had healed well enough, he let them go. He would encourage them to return to freedom by leaving a door or window open. Occasionally some of the birds required additional encouragement in order for them to leave their “safe harbor.” Jane was inspired by this documentary.

Sometimes Jane feels like a bird in a cage. There are other birds, of course, although they seem to cluster together in their own little groups. “Birds of a feather flock together,” they say: an interesting statement, considering all birds have feathers! Well, these groups exist around Jane, including that one group. It consists of a few birds, that are inevitably found, who sit at the top of the pecking order. This group doesn’t bother all the birds, only a select few. Those lucky ones must continually pass from one group to another, weaving and bobbing through the cage, in order to avoid being targeted. Occasionally, or frequently, they are discovered and swiftly put in their place.

This situation doesn’t seem right to Jane. Why is it this way? Perhaps it’s the cage.

Typically cages are for keeping something in, but Jane has noticed that the door is wide open. She can see the clouds, the hills, the valleys, the trees, the sun and moon and stars. She can feel the wind and smell the many tantalizing scents that ride upon it. She has stood in this doorway many, many times observing, studying, and learning about the world beyond the one she is living in. There are so many wonders to be found, but the most fascinating part of the world beyond are the birds. They soar. They are unfettered, untethered, uncaged and able to reach their full potential. At times, Jane longs to be among them.

At times, Jane has tried to discuss the wonders beyond her cage with the others around her. Usually she is met with sentiments that are very kind and agreeable: “It is truly a soul stirring sight that will inspire a bird for the rest of its life -- thank you so much for sharing!” Other times she is gently chided with loving reminders that we are where we are meant to be. It is safe here. We do not hunger or thirst. The storms are violent, but we need not weather them. We are well taken care of. Don’t take the cage for granted; find something positive to think about it! But, it isn’t the cage that Jane feels she is taking for granted, it’s the open door.

Jane has noticed that it isn’t always sunny on the outside of her cage. There are terrible storms that might pluck a bird right out of the sky and dash it to pieces. Predators seem to abound in great numbers in the open places. In the wide world where the depths are darkest, so are the heights supreme. As she becomes what she was meant to be, Jane is willing to endure the low things in order to appreciate the high ones. But when the mother hens hear talk of the wonderful, terrible world, they are quick to remind everyone of the danger. It is not the way things are meant to be. It is not safe and true, and Jane is sorry for having brought it up.

It is outside, in the world, where Jane feels they truly belong, not in a cage. There are some who seem to feel the same way she does and who are willing to go with her, but she wishes they could all see the opportunities that lie in wait for each them. She understands that there is fear of the unknown in so many of the birds. Uncertainty abounds in those lands, and doubt is ever present. It is through overcoming such difficult obstacles that strengthens the faith of a bird and proves that soaring ever higher is possible. In a place of relative ease, where life is sure to be good, there is no need for that strength. Why should one embark on a difficult journey if basic needs are met without it? In the end she knows there will be few who ever leave. Their home is comfortable.

If Jane should choose to leave, she knows there will be those who will miss her, and she will miss them. There will be those who would wish her well and hope she comes back for a visit now and then. Some will feel, with heartfelt worry, that she has been lost. They may feel that she was tempted away by devilish powers, and desire to send someone out to bring her back. She isn’t ignorant of this, but, in fact, is consoled and empowered by the compassion other birds may feel for her. She doesn’t want them to think that she is lost. Quite the contrary, she will soar higher than she ever has before. And, while there may be predators out there, at least she will be able to see them for what they are, giving her the ability to avoid them. And should she be injured she knows there is someone willing to care for her until she is ready to fly again.

And so it comes down to the question: to soar, or not to soar?


1. Directed, produced, and edited by Judy Irving, 2003

Soaring Potential

To fly with an eagle is to see sights unseen, as starlings fill the skies.

Even that little brown bird on the ground knows where it’s potential lies.

The ostrich and emu share a common trait, running is their forté.

Other birds, when allowed to be, seem to enjoy their play

A bobbing cockatoo dancing on it’s perch is truly a silly sight.

Now imagine that bird, free with its flock, as it passes in graceful flight.

Have you ever seen a pandemonium of parrots descend upon a tree back home?

For, you see, in reality, parrots weren’t bred to be alone.

The nightingale brings beauty to our ears, the peacock beauty to our eyes.

While all through the trees, where the mourning doves roost, hang the mourning dove’s mournful cries.

The flamingo stands on one leg for hours, while the penguin soars through the deep.

And though variety abounds throughout, they’re all birds from their very first peep.

There are birds that mimic, birds that screech and birds that can sing a soothing tune.

There are birds that welcome the morning as it breaks and birds who serenade the moon.

There is beauty to be found throughout the world of birds. Still, and none the less,

Only a bird, who is allowed to soar free, knows it’s own potential best.

“Do not do what someone else could do as well as you. Do not say, do not write what someone else could say, could write as well as you. Care for nothing in yourself but what you feel exists nowhere else. And, out of yourself create, impatiently or patiently, the most irreplaceable of beings.”

André Gide

"All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education"
- Sir Walter Scott