a bird in a box

The tiny black ant who found her way to a crumb of my protein bar while hunting solo on my desk this morning was a bit of a surprise. She didn’t take much, and she seemed a little confused when I moved the protein bar and found her standing there without cover.

If she had been accompanied by a legion of her friends, I might have been more offended, but as it were, she seemed lonely and a bit vulnerable. I laughed at the site of that crumb stuck between her pinchers and the way she struggled to decide whether left or right would be the best path.

I coaxed her onto a piece of paper, and escorted her to safety somewhere in the darkness beneath my desk. She got to keep the crumb, but I was hungry and not really willing to share any more.

I was reminded of my little ant friend as I watched Noah as he pouted off to bed tonight.

Just before dinner, Ellie had come running into the kitchen yelling in that squeaky voice of hers about the bird they had discovered in the back yard. I went to the patio door and peaked out into the chilly, cloud-covered nether regions of the Pratt domain, and spied Noah on his knees in the corner of the yard, surrounded by a crowd of sibling onlookers, with a small gray bird in his hands.

We’ve been down that road before with Noah: Birds, caterpillars, snakes, crickets, bees, spiders and any other creature that has ever come within reach of his skinny little arms.

Not much invokes enough fear to scare him away, and if he can catch it, he’ll keep it. He’s the primary motivation for our current pet companions: Far-eyed Junior, the gecko , and Simon, the turtle.

Noah’s not devious, though. He really has no intention of harming the critters. He’s not the kid who would pull out the wings or the legs, or create some kind of horror show with his collection. He just has a genuine admiration for the wild and creepy.

That’s why he started pouting when I told him to let the bird go and commanded the whole crew to come in and wash up for dinner.

I hate to see the poor creatures suffering, and I figured the end of that bird’s story would not have included the words “happily ever after”. Noah loves the creepy, but he doesn’t have the necessary gifts to sustain their lives.

My heart softened, though, when he returned to the kitchen a few minutes later with tears in his eyes and said, “Well, if it’s going to die anyway, why can’t I keep it until it dies?” I summarily dismissed him again, but before he walked down the stairs, his tears had trumped my concern for the bird’s demise and our inconvenience.

I mean, after all, the boy should be allowed to pursue his passion and purpose, right?

I made a deal: He could keep the bird outside in an open box, as long as he kept his hands off of it, and if the bird got out of the box, it had to remain free.

The tears dried almost instantaneously, and the frown turned upside down, but it didn’t last.

The bird had already flown the coop. It was nowhere to be found around our house. Good for the bird. Sad for Noah. He ate quickly and said goodnight, with his heartache on display, before anyone else had left the table. A few minutes later, he was snoring.

At some point in Noah’s life, I suspect he’ll arrive at a place of appreciation for the wild things of this world which will relieve him of the impulse to possess and control them. He’ll come to realize that a caterpillar is most beautiful when it squirms through the grass, rather than across his shirt. Hopefully, he’ll see that a lame bird is better in God’s hands than his own, even if it’s going to die anyway.

We humans have a tendency to intervene where we shouldn’t. We presuppose outcomes that can’t be certain, and in so doing, expedite hopelessness and failure.

I need this lesson as much as Noah: Be reluctant to let arrogant preconceptions dictate an outcome that ought to belong to God. Make every effort to avoid allowing selfishly imposed limitations to prevent the pursuit of passion and purpose.

Don’t presume a slow bird will be a dead bird soon enough. Hesitate before putting a bird in a box. Share your protein bars with solo ants whenever you get the chance.

2 thoughts on “a bird in a box”

  1. The story of the bird gives me hope. We were driving down our street the other day and a bird was in the middle of the road. We expected it to fly away as our car approached, but it didn’t. The kids and I grabbed a towel and picked it up. My plan was to keep it, maybe even in a box, in our yard. But the neighbor saw me and suggested I put it in her bushes. So reluctantly I did and figured it would die there without me to “help” it. Now I have hope that maybe he just needed to catch his breath and he flew away home.

    Give Noah a high-five for me.


  2. I know the real message in this post is the bird, but I resonated with the ant. The bird I don’t identify with–I can (and have) spread my wings and flown to far-off places unhindered. But the ant. I feel like the ant lately, trying to grab any tiny crumb of something bigger and better and more fulfilling; feeling surprised and exposed by my own smallness in the vastness of this world; wondering whether right or left is the best path…


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