Sorry I haven’t posted in a while again. Aside from the usual excuses, I spent considerable time on writing a post that, ultimately, was unusable; it bored even me. However, the upside is that I now have so many things I want to write about that I am going to have to prioritize, pick, and choose.
First though, I have to update that story from my last post, about Jeff. When Jeff stood up in meeting to tell us, in halting phrases and words from the fog of dementia, and in words that made a poem in the style of ee cummings, about the love and friendship he remembers and how he hoped it would continue for a long time, everyone wondered what force had pushed these thoughts to the front of his brain with such force that he rose to his feet and spoke, how this spark of clarity had pushed through the Alzheimer’s. Did we witness a true gift, a moment of grace?
Four days after he spoke those words, Jeff suffered a stroke, which has left him even more confused than before, and walking with difficulty. Physical therapy has helped his mobility, but he remains quite confused.
I ate lunch today at an outside table, in front of a local deli. As I was eating my wrap, a sparrow landed on the edge of the green metal table, cocked its head so one eye was looking right at me, and began hopping and dancing. I wasn’t sure if the bird was fidgeting from nervousness or dancing to get my attention.
I said, “Are you hungry?”
The bird didn’t say anything.
I tore a piece from the edge of my wrap, and held it out between my fingers. The sparrow hopped to my hand, took the food from my fingers, shifted it in its beak to get a good grip, and flew off.
A few minutes later, another sparrow (slightly darker in color) landed on the table, and we repeated the dance, the offer and acceptance.
When the young guy from the deli counter came outside, I commented on the boldness of the sparrows, and he said, “Yeah, they beg from me too when I eat outside; I get to feeling like Cinderella. They come in the back door and steal food from the kitchen.”
It’s always thrilling to hand-feed a supposedly wild animal, have it come right up to you and feel its beak or lips brush your fingers; do you suppose they feel the same thrill of congenial inter-species interaction? When I was in college, the prevailing thought on psychology was behaviorism, and scientists insisted that there are no grounds to believe that animals think or feel like we do, that all you can count on is objectively observable behavior; these sparrows have learned through happenstance and observation that human beings with food present no threat, and will share if they come close — unlike other birds. It’s simply Do this…get reward.
Well, yeah, duh! But why does their movement and manner remind me so much of a small human child feeding an animal? Dancing and hopping nervously, pulling their hand back in surprise at the contact, laughing, or even screaming with delight? The contact and the trust are magical — like Cinderella — and reality isn’t knowable without a little imagination, a little empathy, a little magic.