I am sitting under the bus shelter, hiding from the apocalyptic heat that has been relentlessly plaguing our country in recent months. The bus is not in sight and so I look around for something to distract me from the sweat that is soaking up my shirt. I notice a pet bird shop behind the bus stop, with rows and rows of cages stacked on top of each other. Each cage must have more than 10 beautiful birds inside, mostly perched in line on artificial branches, with a few of them flapping around aimlessly, pointlessly within their steel prisons.
The shop is called Bird Lovers Trading, but perhaps they have a different understanding of the word “Love”. Nothing loving about this scene before me.
And then, as if to add a further dose of despair to the plight of those lovely, trapped creatures, I notice a couple of small sparrows swooping in and gliding effortlessly around the cages, chirping sweetly, then soaring away into the trees. If animals could speak (or, perhaps more accurately, if humans could understand what animals are saying), there might well have been some elements of pity, or relief, in the voices of those tiny, plain looking sparrows.
I stare for a long time at the flurry of feathers behind steel bars, buffeted by the shrill, endless cacophony of what, in more peaceful surroundings, might be considered birdsong. I imagine myself, dripping with sweat under the hot sun, surrounded by people jostling and pushing and crying and screaming, and I cannot help but look away, shuddering. Sad, isn’t it? These birds are behind bars for one reason only – because they are beautiful. And the humble sparrows are flying freely for one reason too – because they are not (at least to those myopic eyes of ours).
The bus finally arrives and I hurriedly board, grateful for the air-conditioning and even more grateful to leave this horrific scene behind. I’m on my way to church, and as my brain slowly cools down I start to realize that what I had just witnessed was nothing special at all. Aren’t we all, in our own lives, just like these birds? We all strive for beauty, in one form or another, and to various extents. But the search for beauty (or wealth, or success) brings with it certain costs, some of which may ultimately prove too great for us. Yes, money and looks can get us places, but they can also trap us in vicious cycles of covetousness, envy and worry that we cannot escape from. While on the other hand, the plain, forgettable, under-appreciated, passed-up-for-promotion sparrows get to live life high up in the trees, on their own terms.
When others look at us, what do they see? Do they see a beautiful, exotic bird living from cage to cage? Or do they see an unassuming sparrow spreading its wings and catching an upward draft into the clear blue sky?
Or would they perhaps see, to their surprise, a beautiful, exotic bird gliding freely in the wild? But then again, exotic birds are called exotic for a reason aren’t they? There just aren’t that many out there.
I alight, and as I walk towards my church a Bible passage comes to mind:
26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.Are you not of more value than they? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?28 And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.