My Life With Gracie…“We Are Not Sparrows”

We Are Not Sparrows

It was an unexpectedly warm November afternoon. In response, the trees were filled with bird activity, and the air was filled with their songs of delight.

“The birds sure are enjoying the weather today,” I commented.

“Yes, we are,” replied Gracie.

There was something in her tone which I did not quite understand. Had I said something wrong and offensive to chickens?

“We are ‘the birds’ too,” she said.

“I’m sorry, Gracie. I didn’t mean to leave you out. It’s just…I know you so well, I don’t think of you as birds.”

“What do you think of us as being?” she asked. There was no hurt or indignation in her voice. She just wanted to see herself through my eyes.

“More than anything else, you are my friends.”

She stood looking into my eyes the way only she can as I tried to put my thoughts and feelings into words.

“But you are also birds,” I added because I did not know what else to say.

“I understand,” she said, as if to coach me along. “We are birds. But we are not sparrows. Or wrens or songbirds either.”

“That’s right. Those birds will always be in this neighborhood and in this yard. The ones I see this year may not be the ones I saw last year or the year before. But they will always be here, a constant presence. They are not individuals like you. They are not friends like you.”

I knew what I wanted to say next, but the words hung in my throat.

“You will not always be here,” I finally said.

I wondered if this was what was on her mind too.

She brushed her beak clean on my shoes and playfully pulled at my shoestrings, the ones that look like worms. Then she let me pretend to chase and catch her so I could hold her close.

Sparrows and wrens and songbirds do not do things like this. Gracie only does things like this because of the time we have invested in each other. We are friends, even though I am not a chicken, or even a bird.

There was a time when she was such a little ball of fluffy feathers. She was afraid to give her heart to anything or anyone, except maybe Bessie, but even then only timidly so.

All lives and all hearts cry out to be valued, but too often those cries are silent and desperate. It seems impossible someone would give their all and more to the un-perfect, the un-desired, the un-beautiful. For someone to expect nothing in return seems even more impossible. But it is what real love requires.

You and I, we are not sparrows either. We are worth far more. But do we realize it?

My Life With Gracie taught me all lives and hearts have the value which is invested in them.

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated!

At church recently, someone asked me what I will do with my stories and illustrations when Gracie dies. This post is a reflection on that. It is also a response to this past Sunday which was the first Sunday of Advent, a season of remembering the great gift and investment made in all lives and hearts.

Conversations With Amelia…The Downtown Lights

The Downtown Lights

I was up on the roof looking for the spot under the back porch eaves where I suspected squirrels were getting into the attic. That was when I heard the sweetest of sweet sounds.

“Hello, Amelia,” I said without turning around.

“How did you know it was me?”

“From the strong wing flappings I heard and the light sound of your feet as you landed on this old metal roof. You are the most excellent flyer of all.”

“Did you know you left the top run door open even though the bottom one is closed?”

“Yes.”

“It sounds like you did that on purpose.”

“Maybe.”

“So why would you do that?”

“Because I wanted to have some time just with you, away from the others.”

“What if something had gotten in?”

“Gracie wouldn’t let that happen. And you know Emily is always first to sound the alarm. I listen. Even up here on the roof where they can’t see me, I listen.”

“It’s very nice up here.”

“Yes, I know. The world looks very different up here, doesn’t it?”

“It does. And I like having the nice view without the steady wing flapping to stay up this high.”

“Tell me something, Amelia.”

“Yes?”

“Would you stay up here with me until the sun goes down and the city lights come on? I’d like to look at the downtown lights and the stars from up here with you.”

“We can do that. I think I would like that. I won’t be able to fly down safely in the dark.”

“I will carry you. I brought up my tool bucket.”

“The one with the rope?”

“Yes, the one I use to bring up my tools and lower them down again.”

“You think of everything.”

“Not really, but I’m glad you think so.”

She helped me find the hole under the eaves. Then after she was quite sure there were no squirrels in the attic, she watched as I nailed a board over the hole.

While she surveyed all that could be seen up and down the street and around the neighborhood, I lay down on my back and looked up at the clouds as they passed overhead. With the angle of the roof, it was a perfect view.

I suddenly felt sad for Amelia and the others because chickens can’t lay on their backs like this. Even though we were in the same place and Amelia was right beside me, we couldn’t see the same way.

But Amelia flew up higher and perched on top of the kitchen chimney, as high up on the house as there was to perch, and that was something I couldn’t do.

I think she may have felt sad for me not being able to have the same view she had because she said, “I wish you could see the way I see.”

“I do too, Amelia. Your eyes are pure and innocent, and I love you for that.”

Then we stayed up there just like that for the longest time without speaking. Sometimes it is that way. You can say a lot without saying anything at all.

From the roof, I heard the other chickens making their way up their ladder and into the coop for the night. Emily and Gracie had a brief argument over who was going to roost where.

“They always do that,” commented Amelia.

“Is that why you always go up last and take whatever space is left?”

“Partly. But I also have the best eyesight, and I don’t want to miss anything. I’ve always wondered about the glow in the sky when it gets dark.”

“Yes, the downtown lights. You will see them for yourself tonight.”

Then all was quiet up where we were and below too except for the sound of an occasional passing car.

“It all feels so beautiful,” she said.

“Yes. The stars are coming out now. They make patterns and pictures in the sky. If you learn them you will always know where you are. You will never be lost.”

We watched as the panorama of lights unveiled itself around us and above us.

“I feel so small and alone,” she said.

I got up and moved over to stand where she was still perched on the kitchen chimney. This one spot high above the world below was the only place I felt we had ever been eye-to-eye. Suddenly I was very grateful to whoever had unknowingly built this chimney at exactly this most perfect height.

“It’s alright,” I told her, as she turned to find my eyes. “And it will be alright. Just look at the downtown lights and the stars above with me, Amelia.”

I can’t really say I know for sure what she saw after the light from the setting sun had been replaced by the light of the stars. It was long past the time she would have gone up to join the others in the coop for the night.

“It all looks so beautiful from this place here with you,” she said.

She may have seen nothing through her own eyes and everything through my eyes. I don’t know. I didn’t ask. But I felt I was seeing the world through her eyes for a moment, and it all truly did look so beautiful.

Perhaps it is not so much what we see but who we see it with.

The Downtown Lights

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! This is one of the few stories I’ve shared where the final sentence was written first and then everything else was written later as a way to get to the final sentences. The illustration is perhaps the most realistic I’ve done for any stories. Amelia has helped me to see and to think in different ways.

My Life With Gracie…Magic Pictures

Magic Pictures

“Amelia and I are going to be writers,” Emily said.

“Yes, I know. Amelia told me. I have to find a typewriter. Didn’t she tell you?”

“No. Yes. Well, you don’t understand. She wants to write the words. I want to paint the words.”

“That sounds like a very interesting combination for making words. We definitely have to work to make this happen then.”

She seemed relieved and chittered happily as she flew up to her favorite perch so we would be more eye-to-eye. Her confidence and faith in me warmed my heart.

“You know, I’ve been having dreams about you and Amelia and your new typewriter.”

“You have? Really you have? We have been having dreams about a typewriter too because we don’t know what one looks like. We imagine all sorts of things.”

“I’m sure you do, and especially since you have such excellent imaginations.”

Gracie had been listening in to all of this and called up to Emily, “Tell him about your letters you have been painting.”

Emily looked a little embarrassed, though I wasn’t sure why. She draws and paints very well.

“I already know some alphabet letters,” she said. “I remember them from when you were writing out some of Pearl’s jokes into Chicken. Do you remember?”

“Yes, I remember. That was fun. All of you did a nice job of helping me to make an alphabet for writing words in Chicken.”

“Do you remember everyone’s favorite letter?”

“Yes, I do. It is the Ÿ because it looks like a chicken who is eating an earthworm. It’s source is an ancient greeting between two chickens which means ‘I wish you many earthworms.’ But that isn’t a letter on American typewriters.”

“That is why I want to paint the letters and the words.”

“Will you show me the letters you have been painting?”

“I’d rather not. Only because I’m not sure they will be like the ones the typewriter will make.”

“I see. I have a feeling your painted letters will add more meaning to the words that the typewriter makes. So in the meantime, you want me to imagine your painted letters and words, just like I want you to imagine my typewritten letters and words. At least for now.”

“That’s right.”

“That seems only fair. And I’m sure what you have done is quite wonderful in it’s own way.”

Gracie had still been listening from below. “Ask him how to make the letters into words.”

“Words are like magic pictures,” she said. “So I need to know how to turn letters into words. But there are some secret words I want to know how to spell so that I can paint the letters that make the words.”

“So you already have words you want to make and you won’t tell me what they are because they are secret?”

“Yes. That’s right.”

“And you want me to spell them for you anyway? Without knowing what they are? That seems impossible.”

“I know,” she said, rocking back and forth quite happily. “I have secret words.”

“If I’m not able to make it work out with the typewriter, if that turns out to be impossible too, will you still love me?”

“What kind of question is that?” she asked.

“Well sometimes people are that way. When you can’t give them what they want, they don’t love you any more.”

“People are very confusing.”

“I know.”

“That’s not the way chickens are. If we love someone, we love someone. Forever.”

“That is a nice word. ‘Forever.’ I like that word.”

“It is one of the words I want to paint.” Then she realized she had let one of her secret words slip out.

“I am sure it is. Just like ‘Amelia’ and ‘Friend’ are special to you. Will you tell me a little more about ‘Forever’?”

“Not now. It will be in Amelia’s poem and in my painting.”

“That’s fine. Words really are like magical pictures, and anticipation can be so much fun.”

Emily blushed.

“Wait! That’s one of your secret words too, isn’t it? Anticipation!”

She flew down from her perch giving me her happiest chittering ever.

Magic Pictures

Each post shares a glimpse into my journey as a writer and illustrator. Every “Like,” “Follow,” and “Comment” is truly appreciated! This particular post has gone through several revisions for story and illustration, even after posting. Thanks for reading!