It was January, 1967, and at the height of the Vietnam War. The times were confusing. It seemed as though the whole country had gone crazy over the war. Near the University campus, where I worked, however, everything was quiet. We were in the midst of a major blizzard, which pretty much cooled everyone’s opinions.
After work, I could barely find my car, as the wind whipped the snow around me. Ahead of me I saw an object being blown around furiously. A leaf? I struggled to see, my curiosity not allowing me to ignore the tumbling in the whirling snow. I struggled against the wind, and bent closer. It was a bird! A sparrow! My God! This poor bird. I was sure it was dead, but I bent down to pick it up in my hand.
The wind was picking up at an alarming rate, and I knew I should hurry, but against my finger, I could feel the trembling pulse of the little bird’s heart. It thrilled me, and I quickly placed the bird inside my coat. Then I struggled into my car. Miraculously, it started on the first try, and I drove home.
It took me three hours to get home. I barely managed to stay out of the ditch, and the little beating heart next to mine stirred something primal and protective in me. As soon as I walked into the house with the bird, my mother flew into action commandeering a large coffee can. She pulled dry moss from her limitless planting supplies, and I was able to get the bird to both peck at some food and to drink some water. I then placed the coffee can in a warm part of the basement. The little bird was suffering from hypothermia and shock. We did not expect it to survive the night.
In the morning the outside world was a sea of white. I would not attempt to drive to the campus that day. I hurried to the basement, and wonder of wonders, the little sparrow was alive! My mother and I checked on him hourly into the early afternoon. He was going to be just fine.
All at once, we heard a huge flock of birds flapping and squawking in our yard. They filled the trees around our house, and just stayed there, hundreds of them. My mother and I looked at one another, both of us knowing that it was time to set him free. I ran down to the basement and back up again, holding the coffee can tight against my chest. Glancing out the window at the flock of sparrows, black against an azure sky, I lifted the little bird out of the coffee can. Again, I could feel his beating heart pulsing against my hand, strong and steady. I carried him to the door, and I opened it.
I expected him to take to the air, immediately, to join the huge flock of chattering birds, but he just sat there in my hand, never moving.
“Go on little bird. Fly away!” I cried. He just sat, cocking his little head at me.
I swooped my hand into the air, encouraging him to fly. My heart broke thinking he might miss this opportunity to be what he was meant to be. Suddenly, the huge flock of birds took off into the air. As if on cue, the little sparrow flew from my hand, and into a nearby tree. For just a moment, he again cocked his head at me, as though he were making some momentous decision, then he plunged into the air, soaring into the midst of that great family of birds, and he was gone.
I thought of that bird a lot, during the duration of the Vietnam War. Today, I still think of him, and I wonder what we might become, we humans, if we would grab the courage to fly from the prison of what we have become used to, so that we might soar into the freedom of what we are meant to be.
Jaye Lewis is a writer and poet, who lives with her family in the Appalachian Mountains of southwestern Virginia. This story will be included in Jaye’s soon to be released book, entitled Entertaining Angels. Jaye can be emailed at [email protected]