Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Second Sunday after Christmas

Published Christmas 2004
Late one night JD and I were getting ready for bed when something hit the window of our sliding glass door with a loud thump. I turned on the light outside, opened the blinds and saw a baby brown bird on the ground near the door. It was the dead of winter on one of the coldest nights of the year. So cold in fact, that JD had mentioned on the news earlier that evening that it would be one of those nights to wrap your outdoor pipes and cover your plants.

It seemed odd that a baby bird would be born at this time of the year much less be knocking outside our bedroom door. My first thought was that it would freeze if left out exposed. I went outside and watched it flap around haplessly in fear and it was shivering. I tried to coax it near enough so that I could bring it indoors until the cold front passed. It wouldn’t let me near it. I looked for any sign of his mama and there was no sign. I looked for any nests nearby and there were none. For the next two nights, this ritual repeated itself and my concern for the little brown bird grew into sheer panic due to the intense chill which was worse than the previous nights. I took a shoe box and filled it with tissue and put it near the door, up on the eaves, and in near places he was hopping just outside my reach. The coaxing went on for an hour or so before we reluctantly retired for the night to sleep. It was hard to sleep those three nights. I worried about my little brown feathered friend. I wish I could have gained his trust. Silly creature I thought. If only I could convince him to let me save him.

JD didn’t have any more suggestions and the kids were asleep when a thought occurred to me. I needed to call my father. When we were growing up, my father had a sweet affinity for the birds in our backyard. He knew where the nests were, and often left feed for them. Even though it was late at night I knew if anyone would know what to do, my father might have an idea how to save our baby brown bird.

The phone rang several times and was answered by my father whom I’m sure was wondering if the news on the other end was bad news due to the lateness of the hour. I started to explain the situation to him and he made me explain it to him again because he couldn’t believe I was calling him about a bird out in the cold. He paused and put the phone aside and said in a voice choked by emotion, “Tammy, your mom and I were at a retreat at Church and the story told by the missionary is the story of your bird”. He told me the following story and we both started to cry. I reflected back on the previous month’s stresses and Dad related that he too, had been somewhat maudlin over the Christmas season.
Homily for the Second Sunday after Christmas by Fr Tommy Lane, Ireland
“Once upon a time there was a man who looked upon Christmas as a lot of humbug. He wasn’t a Scrooge. He was a kind and decent person, generous to his family, upright in all his dealings with other men. But he didn’t believe all that stuff about Incarnation which churches proclaim at Christmas. And he was too honest to pretend that he did. “I am truly sorry to distress you,” he told his wife, who was a faithful churchgoer. “But I simply cannot understand this claim that God becomes man. It doesn’t make any sense to me.”
On Christmas Eve his wife and children went to church for the midnight Mass. He declined to accompany them. “I’d feel like a hypocrite,” he explained. “I’d rather stay at home. But I’ll wait up for you.”
Shortly after his family drove away in the car, snow began to fall. He went to the window and watched the flurries getting heavier and heavier. “If we must have Christmas,” he thought, “it’s nice to have a white one.” He went back to his chair by the fireside and began to read his newspaper. A few minutes later he was startled by a thudding sound. It was quickly followed by another, then another.
He thought that someone must be throwing snowballs at his living room window. When he went to the front door to investigate, he found a flock of birds huddled miserably in the storm. They had been caught in the storm and in a desperate search for shelter had tried to fly through his window. “I can’t let these poor creatures lie there and freeze,” he thought. “But how can I help them?” Then he remembered the barn where the children’s pony was stabled. It would provide a warm shelter.
He put on his coat and galoshes and tramped through the deepening snow to the barn. He opened the door wide and turned on a light. But the birds didn’t come in. “Food will lure them in,” he thought. So he hurried back to the house for bread crumbs, which he sprinkled on the snow to make a trail into the barn. To his dismay, the birds ignored the bread crumbs and continued to flop around helplessly in the snow. He tried shooing them into the barn by walking around and waving his arms. They scattered in every direction - except into the warm lighted barn.
“They find me a strange and terrifying creature,” he said to himself, “and I can’t seem to think of any way to let them know they can trust me. If only I could be a bird myself for a few minutes, perhaps I could lead them to safety. . . .”
Just at that moment the church bells began to ring. He stood silent for a while, listening to the bells pealing the glad tidings of Christmas. Then he sank to his knees in the snow. “Now I do understand,” he whispered. “Now I see why You had to do it.”
After gaining some composure on the phone with my father and realizing that we both had been deeply touched by the bond of his story and my bird, I hung up the phone and went back to check on my little brown bird. He wasn’t there. He disappeared into thin air and I never saw him again.
Tammy Maher is a resident of El Dorado Hills and bi-weekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat. You can reach her at familyfare@sbcglobal.net

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