Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Fate of a Bird

Once upon a time on the banks of a river that ran along the edge of a large city there lived an old man who some said was very wise while others said he was nothing but a homeless fool. Children were told by parents to stay away from the old man. But children are curious, and all the moreso of those things they are told to stay away from. One day three children were walking along the road when one spotted a wee bird that was tangled in some roots. The boy bent down to free the bird and, holding it gently, said to his friends, “I have a way to see how dumb that old guy by the river is. I’ll hold this bird in my hand behind my back and we’ll ask the old guy if it’s alive or dead. If he says ‘alive’, I’ll break its neck and show him he’s wrong. If he says ‘dead’ then I’ll let it go and he’ll still be wrong.” The friends agreed and they set off and found the old man sitting by the river as usual. The kid with the bird in hand and behind his back said, “old man, I’ve got a riddle for you. I’m holding a bird in my hand. Is it alive or dead?” The friends chuckled. The old man looked at the kids and said, “well I don’t know if the bird is alive or dead. But I do know this, whatever is the fate of that bird is in your hands.” The friends stopped chuckling. The three kids looked silently at the old man and then turned and left. As they stepped onto the road the child holding the bird held his hands up and let it fly away.
I learned this story so long ago i cannot remember not knowing it. Perhaps i carry it with me still because i can remember so many cruelties from my childhood. Mostly i remember the absurdly cruel behaviours of my peers (there was the boy's gang and the cool girls and you were cool or not, in or out at the whim of the in-crowd). But i also remember my own wee cruelties, inflicted on snakes and frogs who were guilty of nothing more than the bad luck to be in my path on days i was probably feeling particularly put upon.

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