Or, The Fable of the Non-Conformist Sparrow
I was told this tale many years ago, by an old friend, in a motorway cafe and three in the morning. It is, of course, a joke, (sparrows are not migratory) but like all good comedy, it has a kernel of wisdom. Enjoy!
Once, long ago, in the days when only criminals and superheroes wore masks and people would stand next to each other in shops, there lived a colony of sparrows. Among them was a sparrow of great robustness of body and even greater independence of mind. It might be fair to call him a little stubborn, contrary, or, in the words of his fellow sparrows, “bloody awkward”. When they ate seeds, he ate insects, but when insects were common, he would go out of his way to find seeds. Everyone knows somebody like that -I see one whenever I look in a mirror!
Now in early autumn, as is customary, the colony would undertake the annual flight south. Our sparrow had, of course, done this as well for some years, but had always been a little discontented with it.
“Why,” he would ask, “are we leaving now? There’s plenty of fruit, plants are running to seed and here are still a lot of insects around. It isn’t even very cold!”
The leader of the colony, the Wise Old Bird, said: “Child, we go while the going is good. Because all too soon the plants and insects will die or sleep. The air will grow cold, the wind will howl, the rain will fall, and the terrible Frost will come, and it would be too late to escape! So we go while we may find food for the journey along the way.”
“Pshaw and piffle!” Our sparrow declared. “The wind and the rain blow and fall in the summer, and we don’t flee them. As to this Frost, you have never seen it. None of us has.
“I have a mind to remain here, for a while at least, and see these things for myself. Don’t worry about me. I am the strongest bird in this colony. I will be able to catch up with you in due course, should I wish or need to. If not, I will see you all in the Spring, with tales to tell.”
The Wise Old Bird might have argued more, but he knew our sparrow to be stubborn, and there was much to do to prepare for the journey. In due course, the colony departed. Out sparrow said farewell to his parents; his father said “Good luck, son!” and his mother said “It’ll end in tears, you know!”
For a while, things went well. But then as the Wise Old Bird had said, food began to grow scarce. That didn’t matter at first, because the less food there was in nature, the more the humans put out. But then the gulls arrived, and chased our sparrow off the bird tables and lawns. The cold grew worse, and the rain was heavier. Then one morning he woke to see the world covered in white and silver. A sight pleasing to the eye, but chilly to the heart and bones.
“So!” Our Sparrow decided. “This must be the Frost, and it is terrible, though I’m glad I’ve seen it! But now, I think, I’d best make my way south, I’ve proved my point, and have tales to tell.”
But he hadn’t eaten well for some days, and the wind he flew against was more bitter and powerful than anything he’d met before. He was simply no longer strong enough, and toward the middle of the day, could go no further and fell from the sky, landing in a farmyard. A passing cow walked over him, without noticing, and deposited a pile of dung on him as he lay.
“Well,” thought the sparrow, “that just puts the tin lid on it! I’m glad my family will never know how I died!”
But the warmth of the dung revived him somewhat, and he noticed that there were undigested seeds among it, which he ate. Then the warmth drew insects and worms out of the ground, and he ate some of them. Then because he was full, and warm, and felt better than he had in days, he stuck his head out and began to sing.
This drew the attention of the farmyard cat, who wandered up behind the sparrow, pulled him out of the dung, brushed him off and devoured him on the spot.
So ends the tale of the Non-Conformist Sparrow, and we learn from it these three truths:
Truth the First: Someone who shits on you might not do so out of malice.
Truth the Second: Someone who pulls you out of the shit might not have your best interests at heart.
Truth the Third: If you’re in the shit, but warm and happy there — keep quiet about it!
Here endeth the lesson.