We just buried our family’s pet cockatiel, Larry. He was not an extraordinarily bright or talented bird – he thought he had a twin brother who matched his every dance move when he stood in front of a mirror or even in front of the shiny faucet of our kitchen sink. But he could whistle approvingly at you when you walked into a room, or offer his rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” 716 times in a row while you were trying to watch a television show. He could hiss at you when you tried to take him out of his cage at a time when he preferred to be taking a nap, or try to peck holes in your fingers when you tried to put him back in. He spent many a day alone and ignored in his 2′ by 3′ birdcage. Larry was a hit attraction four years ago when he first graced our family room on Christmas morning. He was well taken care of. But Larry had long since lost his status as the center of attention and popularity at the Perry house.
And that’s why I was surprised at the outpouring of grief and volume of tears that flowed following his unexpected death a few days ago. My boys – two of which are tough-guy, too-cool (by that I mean “typical”) teenagers – were devastated when the found Larry lying lifeless in the bottom of his cage. Their sobbing returned when we buried him in the backyard the next day.
Why would a silly, annoyingly loud, exceptionally messy little bird bring about such a reaction from the boys for whom Larry’s novelty had long worn off?
Larry also spent many an hour rubbing his fuzzy head on my son’s neck while getting his own neck massaged gently with a loving finger. Beside his piercingly shrill whistle, he could also chirp and coo you to sleep. He longed for attention and was quick to return it to the son with whom he bonded as a baby bird.
Larry had no creative will – we built the ladder he used every day to clamber around in his cage. He exhibited no moral awareness – he would just as soon take your eye out with his beak or steal the earring out of my wife’s ear. He had no thirst for knowledge – it took untold hours and treats to coax him into that “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” rendition that he would never have conceived of on his own. He had no appreciation of beauty – even of his own.
But despite all the differences he exhibited between we spiritually imbued humans who are made in God’s image, Larry was nonetheless a living creature, created by a loving God, and possessing some form of a soul. We can never explain the full extent of what constitutes the substance of life in any form but somehow we recognize its worth. In some way we are aware of the beauty and precious nature of that life because, whether we knowingly embrace it or not, it is built into the fabric of the universe. When a life to which we are emotionally attached comes to an end, that fabric is marred and the blemish touches our own soul.
In that way we recognize that Larry shared our dependence on the Creator, and our value as an object of His loving purpose for our existence. In that way we can connect to an annoying little bird because we somehow share the gift of life itself with him. This is not to equate the value of human life with the value of a little bird – but it is to acknowledge our commonality in its Source.
We’ll miss you, Larry.