Bearing Witness

Tree_Sparrow_Japan_FlipThere’s this bird. A little brown sparrow I think, although I’m no bird expert. Last week, he decided to fly into my office. The problem was that he was outside and the windows to my office were closed. This did not deter him. He kept flying into the window, tapping it with his beak and eventually knocking himself off balance and falling to the ground or flying off. Then he would stand on the ground or fly to the top of the nearby shrub and chirp in what I can only describe as a frustrated way. He did this over and over and over.

Thinking this might help him, I got my plant spray bottle full of water and hoped to quietly open the window and spray him the next time he approached the window. I thought perhaps a scare might be the way to get him to go away. While I wasn’t particularly bothered by his periodic tapping on the window, I was worried that he’d hurt himself at some point. However, every time I approached the window, he would see me and fly off. I never got to use the spray bottle.

Finally, at the suggestion of another person, I turned off the lights to the office. Perhaps not being able to see inside might discourage him; perhaps not seeing his reflection so clearly might discourage him. It seemed to work. He went away and I heard nothing from him for a couple of days.

On Saturday, as I was in the chapel next to my office practicing my sermon, I heard tapping on the stained glass windows that face the same side of the building as my office windows. Sure enough, it was another little brown sparrow. The same sparrow, I suspect, as tried to get into my office a few days earlier. After he repeated his window tapping behavior a few times, I turned off the lights in the chapel. The bird did not give up as he had before. He kept at it for at least another 30 minutes before going away. I opened the chapel windows and tried to show him away. He perched on the nearby shrub and scolded me.

Then on Sunday morning, as we were meeting in the chapel for Sunday school, guess who tried to join us? Yup, my little sparrow friend was at the windows again. This time, perhaps because it was cold and windy and rainy, he didn’t try for very long and we didn’t turn off the lights. He just gave up and went away on his own after a few tries.

This morning, he’s back. It’s still cold and windy and apparently my office still looks like a good place to be, so he’s trying again. His attempts are less enthusiastic than last week, though. I hope that’s the cold and rain and not because he’s in pain from banging his beak on the unyielding windows a few times too many.

So—is my sparrow friend admirably persistent or foolishly stubborn? Is he developing tenacity or merely too stupid to admit defeat? Is he keeping hope alive or simply banging his head against the proverbial unmoving wall? I’m not an ornithologist so I don’t know the likely scientific answer. I simply know that I both marvel at him and feel sorry for him. And I do not know what I can do to help except stand by and bear witness. Sometimes that’s all we can do.

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