Luke 12:6&7 Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
I have a lot of hair. A lot. It is thick and coarse and plentiful. It was a great source of much pain and many tearful brushings when I was young. I got it all chopped off when I was 10 and didn’t grow it out again until I was a freshman in college. That scripture from Luke, and also Matthew, has long been a favorite of mine. The idea that God knows the number of hairs on my head–amazing. Whether you take that scripture literally or figuratively, it is still a great illustration of how much God loves us. Not only that, but the soothing, assuring tone of Jesus’ voice when he says it, well, I can almost imagine how he sounded. In essence, he was stroking the hair of the disciples, calming their fears, using words and things familiar to them to make a point.
“. . .Do not be afraid. You are worth more than MANY sparrows.”
I was in a hurry. I had made it home from school early, and changed clothes to go buy groceries. It was spring. Tony and I had been married for 3 years or so.
I hustled out to the car, mind elsewhere, and what I saw annoyed me no end. It was a teeny, tiny, scrawny, pitiful, NEKID baby bird. It had fallen out of its nest, which was lodged in the eaves of the metal cover over our parking area.
And it had landed RIGHT in my parking spot, RIGHT next to my front driver’s side tire.
And I was not happy about it.
Having grown up in the country, I knew better than to try and put that birdy back in it’s nest. The momma would not have taken too kindly to a 5th grade teacher hand smelling baby. I did not have time for this. I was in a hurry. I had plans. I had groceries to buy. But the thought of coming home and finding a teeny, tiny, scrawny, pitiful, NEKID baby bird corpse was none too pleasing either.
So, I did what I had been taught never to do, and I picked up that baby bird and carried it into our apartment. Then, fingers crossed, I called the science resource center which happened to be housed inside my school. They had all sorts of orphaned, injured, unwanted animals in there, and I was sure they would welcome this little one with open arms.
Evidently, the inflation rate on birds was not too much different from New Testament times, and the director informed me that she was NOT in the market for a baby bird as they were “a dime a dozen.” She WAS happy to tell me how to care for it, however. Rather than going to the grocery store for People Food, I went to the pet store and got Babies That Fall Out of Their Nest Food and a feeding syringe and VOILA–easy as that I became a mother house sparrow.
I named our baby Charlie. Why, I cannot now say. At that time, I had no idea what kind of bird it was, but I thought it was a boy.
Baby house sparrows are really not so very different from baby humans. They eat a lot, and when they are hungry they make a lot of noise, and what goes in must come out, and they do that a lot too. They need to be kept warm, and they sleep a lot. The up side is that unlike baby humans they sleep through the night from the get-go, because their parents do not fly around finding food for them after sunset. The down side is that like baby humans, they need constant care and attention throughout the day, and I was a full-time school teacher.
The next morning, I put that baby bird in a plastic dollar store basket lined with a dish rag. I made the equivalent of a baby house sparrow diaper bag complete with food for the day, and I took both of us to school. I marched into my principal’s office and said, “I found this bird yesterday, and Margie in the SRC does not want it, but I couldn’t let it die, so it will be in my room from now on.” And he said, “Okay.”
My 5th graders were thrilled. Well, at first they were a little grossed out, ’cause just like brand new humans, brand new birds aren’t so attractive unless you are the mom. But they were thrilled at the possibilities. So Charlie became a part of our world.
Little feather sprouts began to grow in–on the head first then on the wings. After the feathers arrived, I was able to tell that my baby was, in fact, a girl. When she wasn’t asleep in her dish towel covered basket with the lamp shining on her for warmth, my students were constantly wanting to see her.
Like a baby human she began to sleep less and chirp more. The kids would watch me feed her. She would sit on my shoulder while I taught class, or nap under the collar of my shirt. Her little birdy feet would clutch my finger as the kids stroked her fluffy, soft head.
One day, she jumped off of my finger and fluttered her way to the floor. It took about three or four days, but that baby learned to fly in my classroom. Again, like a baby human, she loved her new freedom, but she didn’t stray too far from mom. She would flutter, flutter, flutter, then turn around to find me and my ever present index finger perch.
The day came when I had to leave her home in the cage with seed food to eat. She was full grown and ready to go. At the end of that school year in 1996, I gave all of my students a small photograph of me holding Charlie on my finger. She was a part of their world for over a month, and they felt very protective of her.
Tony and I never planned to keep her. She was a wild bird and would need to go back into the wild, but we were moving to the suburbs in the middle of May and decided that would be a better place to turn her loose.
Thing was, once we turned her loose, she kept on coming back. She perched on the light fixture by the back door at night to sleep. She flitted from crepe myrtle to crepe myrtle but never left the back yard. She rode on Tony’s shoulder while he mowed. She flew to us any time we opened the door. She loved to peck at my diamond engagement ring. She was on her own, but still not ready to leave the nest.
One night at sunset, she didn’t come home. We thought she’d finally decided to go her own way. Then Tony saw her. She was hopping along the back porch to us. She tried to fly, but her wing was useless. We never knew how she broke it. We were afraid to pick her up for fear of damaging her wing further, so I moved very close to her. She hopped into my lap and fell asleep in the folds of my nightshirt.
I was so sad for her. I didn’t want her to be caged for the rest of her life. Tony took her to the vet the next day. She gave us some special food with extra calcium but told us that Charlie would never fly again and that house sparrows can live in captivity for 10+ years.
We fed her and took her out every day to let her hop around the yard. She seemed happy in her cage in the kitchen. A few weeks later she was riding Tony’s shoulder as he mowed when the wind began blowing and whoosh, she was up and flying.
House sparrows are very, very smart. They are hoppy little birds that weigh next to nothing. And our house sparrow, well, she was pretty much unbreakable. She survived a 12 foot fall to a black topped parking lot. She survived my paltry ministrations as a mother bird. Then, against all odds, she learned to fly again after she broke her wing. She resumed her perch by the back door, and life went on as usual.
Late in July we had friends over one night. It was a Saturday. I was in the kitchen cooking. Tony and our friends were outside. After dinner, it was time for Charlie to go to bed, so I walked outside to show Mike and Kathleen where she slept. No Charlie. When I asked Tony if he had her he said she had been riding his shoulder before dinner, then took what he called a victory lap around the back yard and flew over the fence to the front. She had never flown into the front yard before, and after she did she never came home again.
Charlie. She loved us and we loved her.
I grew up around animals, but have loved only three: two dogs and one bird. I do not give my heart to animals lightly. It always ends up broken. After Charlie left, the door on that little section of me was closed for good. Even though we never planned to keep her as our own, I had grown attached.
The night she flew away was warm and beautiful. The wind was blowing gently. It wasn’t too terribly hot for July. The sunset was blazing. I don’t know where she went or what happened to her, but I hope she had a good life and raised lots of little house sparrow babies just as strong as she.
Spring of 2006, I went to pay Thad’s enrollment fee for his new school. When I got to the office, the director said, “I have someone who wants to see you.” She left for a moment and came back with the young man who is in charge of the afternoon program. The first thing he did was ask the question I hear a lot, “Mrs. Langley, do you remember me?” It had been 10 years, but I still recognized the face. He was a student the year of Charlie. The next thing he said was, “I still have that picture of you and Charlie.”
That kid’s name was Jamar. He was one of TWO Jamars that I had in the same class. He ran everywhere he went. I cannot tell you how many times I fussed at him. He didn’t like to do his homework, and he talked a lot in class, and I visited with is mother on the phone a time or two. Now that KID has grown into a fine young man. He is finishing college and working on a degree in elementary education. I would never have predicted that. Last year a little girl had a siezure on the playground. She quit breathing and began to turn blue. Jamar performed CPR until the paramedics arrived. Her parents took her home from the emergency room alive. And now? That “kid” is watching after MY kid. And he’s doing a very, very fine job.
Annoyances and inconveniences come our way every day. Although distracting, they still seem small and even insignificant. We swat at them like pesky flies. Tiny birds drop from high eaves. Squirrely 5th grade boys run everywhere they go and generally get on people’s nerves. Trivialities come along that divert our plans and take our time and energy and we wonder why that always seems to happen. Yet, in the distance, in the tapestry of what is our future, they converge to become blessings, memories, lessons, gifts from the One who knows the very number of hairs on our heads–the One who knows right where Charlie lived out the remainder of her days–the One who knows where I shall live out the remainder of mine. Neither Charlie nor I have been, nor ever will be, forgotten by God.