Lady, my parrot, is taken to the office every day down a hallway of toddler and preschool activities. “Bird lady, bird lady,” the children begin to squeal at the sight of her. Clinging to the coat collar of her carrier, Lady bounces along, oblivious of the tiny hands stretching up to touch her. Children, the books say, ought not to be allowed too close to parrots for fear the bird becomes agitated by the motions. In this case, other than her walk down the hall, Lady lives in a totally adult environment. No worry there.
So, when Brigid, the six-year-old friend of a staffer, asks to visit Lady, I’m on full alert. One quick motion, one loud noise, could start something that in the end would upset both the bird and the child.
Brigid is a gentle and sensitive child, not given to quick actions or loud squealing, but totally in love with animals. And Lady Hildegard fascinates her. Nevertheless, it pays to be cautious. But the little girl, true to form, comes almost tiptoeing around the frame of the office door.
Brigid’s a normally hesitant child, but, for some reason, not with Lady. Instead she walked straight to the edge of the cage and simply stood there. Most surprising of all, Lady, too, came to the end of her little perch and, just as quietly and simply as Brigid had done, stood there waiting. I could see them look hard and long into one another’s eyes, neither of them blinking, both of them solemn and steady as Doric columns, not a word said.
It was a mystical moment. The bird and child locked in some kind of preternatural condition. Lady moved slowly and sweetly to Brigid’s fingers, and Brigid leaned over and smiled a smile as fragile as the dew. The sense of satisfied love and shy spiritual awe on her small face lit up the entire room.
One thing was clear: Love and fear, fear and love are motivators that lie very close to the surface in all of us. Life is a struggle between caution and courage, between recklessness and prudence, between bright spirits and common sense. At least that’s the message that most of us get growing up. You must always be “careful.” And at the same time, you must “have faith” that all things will be right in the end.
When we react out of love, life is full of the impossible and the good. When fear controls us, life is lived carefully, watching every step, because, after all, the worst can happen at any moment.
Once we put down fear and open our lives to love, then fear cannot trigger in us the need to defend ourselves from what has never hurt us.
—from Two Dogs and a Parrot: What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life by Joan Chittister