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A Tale of Two Birds

May 27, 2012

Faith is a capricious creature, bounding from steadfast and soothing to unreliable and inadequate in the blink of an eye.

My fickle faith deserted me abruptly and unexpectedly one morning in early 1985 as I completed the final months of my service as a Mormon missionary in Peru.  It happened while I was doing a 90-day stint as a “financial secretary” at the mission office in Lima.  Living in a rented room in the home of an Argentine widow roughly two kilometers from the mission office, my Peruvian companion and I – Mormon missionaries always function in pairs known as “companionships” – hoofed it in to work every day.  Our route had us crossing quiet streets and cutting through corner parks in San Isidro, one of the fanciest neighborhoods of Lima.  It was usually a very pleasant walk.

On one morning seemingly no different than any other however, I glanced down at the base of a tree in the grassy median as we crossed Salaverry Avenue and noticed a featherless baby bird in the dirt weakly squawking.  I looked up to see the nest from which the birdie must have fallen.  It was about 15 feet up and on the lowest branch.  I quickly recognized that, even if my companion were to lift me onto his shoulders, there would be no way to get anywhere near that nest, so I just kept walking.  Between seeing the ill-fated bird, spotting the nest, and mentally calculating the futility of taking any action, maybe five seconds passed maximum.

I unexpectedly found myself spending the remaining kilometer plus of the trek pondering that baby bird.  I became fixated on the question of why it had fallen, or more specifically why it had been “allowed” to fall.  I knew that no one but me would ever see or otherwise be aware of that little newborn bird and its imminent, pointless death.  Allowing my mental, missionary-grade certainty shield to sag ever so slightly, I even began wondering why God would allow that baby bird to die even though He could so easily float it right back into that nest without anyone being the wiser.  Questions roiled my thoughts and my throat briefly shook with a few swallowed sobs as I walked two or three strides behind my oblivious companion.  What possible purpose could the death of that innocent creature serve?  Why would God work that way?  As we silently arrived at the mission office door, I was deep in the midst of a foundation-threatening personal crisis of faith.

For better or worse, once inside the office, routine responsibilities intervened pretty quickly to pull me out of my funk.  I was soon caught up in paying mission bills and calculating foreign exchange conversions and, before I realized it, the crisis had faded and was all but forgotten.  The blessed mundane had interceded to save me from further gloom.  I don’t remember thinking about the event again at all for some two years afterwards, or at least until…

One spring afternoon in 1987 after attending undergrad classes at Utah State University, I was walking through the student-filled neighborhoods of Logan, Utah, toward the apartment I shared with two buddies who had served as missionaries with me in Peru.  I was only a few blocks from the apartment when I heard a commotion alongside the road and looked over to see a sparrow flapping wildly on the ground.  I eased toward it and, seeing that it had a broken wing, decided almost without thinking to help it.  I was able to snatch it up and nestle it in my arms easily, and proceeded to carry it the rest of the way home.  Once there, I searched for and called the local Animal Control number, explaining I had an injured bird and asking what I should do.  The nice lady took my address and said someone would be right there.

Sitting alone in the apartment waiting for Animal Control to come and save my swallow, I suddenly remembered the forgotten baby bird from two years prior.   The memory of that previous emotional walk through San Isidro as a missionary flooded back into my thoughts.

I honestly cannot now recall the full details, but I know I experienced in that moment a sort of epiphany.  I sensed some kind of connection between this sparrow and that doomed hatchling from my past.  I felt that in some way saving this broken sparrow in 1987 transcended time to rescue 1985’s innocent as well.  All my questions and doubts of two years earlier were resurrected in my thoughts one by one only to be immediately and profoundly washed away in a wave of understanding.  By the time the Animal Control officer arrived and took the swallow off my hands, I was joyous.  My faith was strong.

Following the sparrow’s departure, routine responsibilities intervened pretty quickly to pull me out of my rapture.  I had soon forgotten whatever it was about the experience that had made me so happy.  To this day, I am clueless about my specific thoughts at the time, but I tend to imagine that I must have achieved a kind of welcome liberation from the shackles of some deep, unconscious remorse over having ignored the pleading warbles of that condemned baby bird that day in 1985.  As for the sparrow, I assume Animal Control probably wrung its neck and tossed it in the trash soon after taking it off my hands.

Faith is a capricious creature, slipping from convenient and simple to unneeded and forgotten in the blink of an eye.

From → Beasts, Church

  1. When I read your comment on my Legacy Bike Path post I didn’t know it was you. In the meantime I’ve seen Dick and he put two and two together for me. I again compliment you on your writing skills (my Ogden friend claims the schools are better there than in Salt Lake, I think you are just smart and gifted). All this is going to result in a book, I assume.


  2. ‘The blessed mundane’; comforts anguish and dilutes rapture.
    With or without the saints, it seems.

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