I got lost on my drive to the Silver Bluff Village in Canton. It happened on a Monday afternoon in July. I didn’t get lost on the roads. The directions are simple and quite easy to follow. I got lost in the day. It was such a day—a day that almost begged to be noticed, but didn’t have to beg because I couldn’t help but notice. I almost forgot my purpose for being on the road in the first place. It was just one of those days. My wife Chan always gets a bit uneasy when I try to drive and notice things at the same time. But alone in my truck on such a day, I was smitten, and couldn’t keep my eyes on the boring asphalt trail that confined me. The sky and its spectacular relationship with the clouds held my attention, until a rather large flock of finch-like birds flew across my path—the burst of bright yellow stole my eyes and my heart—a wave of sudden emotion that felt wild and beautiful and free. I was completely lost in the day until I passed the Jukebox Junction and immediately regained my sense of direction.
I walked down the hallway excited at the prospect of visiting with friends, but also disappointed to leave the wide-open spaces. I stopped at the nurse’s station with my list, and she helped with each room number, pointing me down the various hallways with low ceilings. As I thanked her for the directions and turned for my first adventure, I noticed what seemed to be an old armoire transformed into a birdhouse. I walked over and stared into the glass enclosure, amazed at the beautiful feathers on these colorful finch-like birds. My first thought was, “How lovely! What a nice gift for the residents of Silver Bluff, many of whom might not otherwise see such birds.” I decided to sit on the bench and enjoy them for a while. But that decision proved to be more disturbing than joyful. All I could see was their prison. I wanted to ask them if they could remember the wild, open spaces, but realized that was a cruel question. And then I remembered Scooby.
Scooby was my son’s bird. Ben’s grandmother had received the bird as a gift, and decided to re-gift the bird into our family. Scooby, a beautiful cockatiel prone to pull out her tail feathers, was a mean-spirited bird that liked to bite children. Thanks Granny. Scooby didn’t like anyone, but for some reason she really liked me. She would sit on my shoulder and nibble on my ear. It was kind of nice. I bonded with this bird. I would feel guilty at times when my busy schedule left Scooby caged and alone for days at a time. No one else in the family dared go near her. Early one morning after a busy season of neglect, I sat down in my comfortable chair next to Scooby’s cage and I just stared at her. I started thinking about her life. All I could see was her cage. She’s a bird. Birds don’t belong in cages. Birds were meant to fly, wild and free. My heart began to break. She was in that cage simply to satisfy my need for a pet. She lives a miserable existence so that every now and again I can get my ear nibbled and hold the silly notion that we’re bonding.
It’s an interesting thing. As soon as I stopped thinking about me, and started thinking about the bird, my perspective completely changed. I wanted to open her cage and open the front door and set her free. Every bird should fly free. But it’s not always that easy. At that point in her life, having been forever caged, it’s doubtful she could survive one day in the wild. So she continued to sit on my shoulder and listen to me chirp away while she gently nibbled on my ear. At least we were together. We all need someone who loves us and understands our plight.
On that Monday afternoon in July, one room at a time, I sat with my friends and tried to listen more than I chirped. My experience at the nurse’s station awakened me to the possibility that they too might feel a bit caged—no longer able to fly on their own into the wild places of the world—no longer able to make it on their own. It’s why we get on the boring asphalt roads in the first place.
So we can sit together and remember—stories that bring joy and laughter—others that trigger memories of loss and grief. But we are together and we know that we are loved. We know that at least someone is trying to understand our plight. It’s why God calls us together. It’s why community matters.
The writer of the letter to the Hebrews said, “Do not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:25).