~ Linnette welcomes Rob Holliday to Friday with Friends. Believe us when we say that, though not a romance writer, he's definitely a writer to watch out for. Take it away, Rob!
by Rob Holliday
The man gazed down at the small bird, a handful of breadcrumbs offered in companionship. He didn’t know that he was to die that day. The bird hopped onto the man’s wrist and pecked at the crumbs out of sheer politeness. He’d grown to enjoy the man because the man glowed kindness, but also melancholia. The small bird sang for him, the man would listen and hint at a smile. They visited like this for days through weeks and into years. The man would come out, sit on the bench, offer him some bread, and in return, the bird would sing as payment. If friendships were ever born of anything, it was what the man and the bird shared: mutual kindness, enjoyment of each other’s peace.
The man got up to leave at the end of the bird’s concerto and so the bird took his leave. He flapped his wings to take to the sky, the earth falling away as he gained loft. Below, the world looked small and trapped, especially the people.
He beat against the winds, catching a tail gust, then dipped and rode the zephyrs to the spire over the chapel. He never grew tired of it. From the spire, he offered his finest song, a chorus of harp notes and joy. He pitied them below, really. To have to walk everywhere, to be stuck inside, fighting over small scraps to buy things that caused sickness in so many fashions. Poor health. Greed. Envy. Lust. Pride. Sloth. He paused and thought, yes, I am hungry. Just a bit but not famished. He zeroed his eyes in 50 feet below and scanned for something that would be enough. There. He launched himself upward and turned into a downward dive with a slight bump of his wings. His brain calculated his approach for the moment to flare and land; the falling leaves followed his example.
He cocked his head around looking for his quarry. There. He seized on the fat cricket burrowing for the grass roots. In two snaps of his beak, he gulped it down, his gizzard grinding the meaty hopper for his meal.
There. The visitor was back. He needed to inspect it, because it was no bird, no, not at all. He skipped into the air with a beat of his wings, circling into the sky and looking back at this returned guest that lingered under the lone oak tree on the campus common.
It looked up to him and smiled, gesturing for him to come down. He couldn’t resist, the pull magnetic against his feathers and hollow bones. He sailed in low and dropped to a cautious stance ten wingspans away.
“Don’t fear me, little flyer. I won’t hurt you.”
The voice startled him. It didn’t speak in his native tongue of chirped warbles. Yet, he understood it. And could speak back to it.
He cocked his head at this stranger, “Are you a bird? You don’t…have feathers per se…”
With a laugh, it replied, “No gifted one, I’m not a bird, but I do travel by flight. I watched you flying just now, quite acrobatic. I suspect your flight is much more enjoyable than mine.”
“How so? You’re much larger than me, so you must achieve greater height and velocity.”
“Well, my dear meadowlark, not all things are measured by the greatness of their span. We do better to measure by the span we have, not the one we don’t have. That’s why they,” nodding to the passersby, scurrying to their tasks, “are so miserable. They fail to see the span they have, expecting that they should have a better span than the rest. It’s a perpetual cycle of despair to hoard what one has rather than give it away freely.”
“Mmm, this is true. And I must confess, I do love my feathers. They’re really quite grand. I’m very unique, even among my kind. While I admire the bold redness of others, I’m endeared with my golden breast here.” Spreading his wings, he added, “And the dark brown, well, I would just have to say that our Maestro has really outdone himself.”
He laughed a song and hopped right beside the visitor. “And our ladies are quite the vision. Deep brown feathers, with their hint of color at their throat and dappled breast, my, and some prefer to say they’re dull. Rather the opposite I should say; their detail is their beauty. But above all, it is the song that the Maestro gave us that is most treasured.”
“Well, I’m pleased that you might see that in yourself and your fellow kind.”
“Would it be possible for us to take a flight together, a wing of epic proportions? I could show you the vast fields baked golden in the sun, the ponds shimmering opals, cool for drinking…”
The visitor chuckled but then sobered, “I’m sorry, little one, I must tell you that I’m here on other business you see. A mission of mercy really.”
“Oh, and what might that be?”
“Turn and look over there. Do you see him behind the glass?”
“Yes, I certainly do. He comes outside and parks on that bench. He sits there most days actually. Lately though, he’s been sitting at the glass more often. Never says a word. I’ve sung for him and he smiles for me, but he simply longs for…something…more.”
|Image by Trish Punch|
“Well, I’ve come for him.”
He turned and looked at the visitor with scrutiny. “Come for him? Wait- I have seen you before, haven’t I? You’re the returner of souls.”
“Yes, I am. I reap what the Maestro requires I reap. And today, he requires that I reap this one.”
“Dear sir, must you?” letting out a forlorn call that spoke of his sadness. “But he is a friend to me, and I will miss him. And who will sing for him?”
“I’m coming to take him away from his sadness. Don’t worry, little one, there are many others like me who sing, and because I am taking him into light, they will sing to him for all his days to come and he will revel in their song.”
“But for whom shall I sing? If the Maestro gave me this voice, shouldn’t he allow me to use it for his purposes? I don’t care to insult him or you, but I know that my singing does bring him…peace.” He glanced down. “And it brings me joy as well to sing for him.” He paused for a beat, thinking. “Perhaps there is something else we could do, if the Maestro would restore his happiness in song but let him linger a bit longer. Perhaps as long as I might linger? I have but a season or two left, I know.”
Death smiled gently down on the gentle bird, “Well, tell me then, noble friend, what will you offer that might equal the Maestro’s pleasure for him to come?”
“Oh sir, I dare not think to equal him. But perhaps there is one thing I could give him, should it please the Maestro.”
“Doctor, when did he start this?”
The doctor and chaplain stood at the corner of the sanitarium, observing the man who sat upon the bench day after day. Except for today. He waltzed through the commons.
“Just this morning. First sound I’ve heard from him for years.”
“Ah yes, hard to believe it’s been years since he came, poor man. I know the loss of his family must have shattered him on the inside. I don’t know that he’s ever visited their graves.”
“No, I don’t believe he has. But now, just this morning, we get this.”
The man strolled through the commons; a small bird following him in leaps and jumps of sorts, fluttering to his shoulder and around him in wide arcs. A symphony of song rung forth, the rarified notes carrying across the common. The man whistled a chorus of harp notes and joy for his feathered companion, while the bird remained in blissful silence, for the meadowlark had given his deepest treasure to his friend, and in that, he was satisfied.
I hope you enjoyed the story, but I must confess, it was borne from a place of selfishness. Not in the sense that I didn’t want to share it, but because it was a sort of repentance for me. While I wrote this a bit ago (I have another in the works for our dear (and patient) Linnette; it simply didn’t want to be finished yet), it suited me to refresh it and share again. Let me explain a bit more.
Over the past months, I’ve struggled with gratitude in deep and bitter ways. Of course, they didn’t strike me as deep and bitter ways until I reflected on what others don’t have. I focused so much on what I didn’t have, rather than on the blessings the Lord has poured out on my life, the foremost being Jesus.
I considered that I deserved to be treated more fairly and deserved more accolades in my work, and less demands on my life from others. But the truth is, I’m richly cared for in a way that I do not deserve. I suppose it’s largely a Western problem, while more than half the world struggles with daily survival. I suppose it’s a me problem that I allowed my pride to drive my gratitude into the ground.
As I wrote, I realized that Death, describing the self-inflicted cycle of despair of covetousness that afflicts so many, was in fact looking straight at me. Material blessing aside, I have joy in my life that I can’t measure. My wife, my children, the loss of my oldest son who passed away from cancer at age 4, my church, and my friends bring me peace. I know that may sound odd- the loss of my son bringing peace- but peace isn’t at all synonymous with happiness, at least not in my intention of the word. In those moments of reflection, the world drifts away and gratitude revives while pride languishes. I realize when considering any of my troubles, it’s not a matter of “why me” but rather “why not me”.
So as you’ve read this, I want to say thank you for indulging my need to purge pride and ingratitude from my heart, even if not permanently, and restore peace and thankfulness.
If you struggle with this too, I hope you may find a meadowlark to refresh your joy.
Rob Holliday Born in Lubbock, Texas, Rob grew up the youngest son of a successful salesman and a part time teacher, full time homemaker. His love of reading grew from an early age as the result of making friends slowly as well as taking long summer car trips in the backseat of a ’78 Ford LTD with his older brother and an inexhaustible supply of paperbacks. He wrote his first story in 3rd grade, he wrote his first longer story of 70 pages in 5th grade much to the embarrassing acclaim of peers and teachers alike; he’s been a storyteller since. When he’s not writing or reading, he enjoys soccer, running, buying books with reckless abandon and car karaoke. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin as an English major, bleeds orange and answers “Hook ‘Em” or “Tom Landry wouldn’t have done it that way” to most questions. He has an insatiable appetite for vintage clothes and adidas Originals shoes. He lives with his wife and five children (four in the home, one in heaven) in Central Texas.
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