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why I feed the birds

Richard Vargas’ poem reminded me of one I posted sometime ago called Birdfoot’s Grandpa. We each have those idiosyncratic things that make us who we are. We might save frogs, feed birds, serve meals in a shelter, etc. It is in those moments which are largely unexplainable, but clearly visible that we become who we are.

Something that stood out for me in both poems was the role elders played in the lives of others. Our grandparents and parents do things that we do not understand in the given moment. It is only years later as we experience our roles as parents, grandparents, and pedagogues that we come to understand what it might have meant.

When we take time and make the world a better place, we add something no one else can. In that addition, the world does become better. It is rarely in the large and overtly obvious things, but in the small, less obvious contributions that the world shifts from ordinary to extraordinary. It is giving without any certainty and hope of a return. We do it because it is who we are in our particular humanness which is always being and becoming in relationship with the universe.

And, it make a difference to birds, to frogs, and people in need when we add to the world without expecting return. In those moments, they are small gods in our lives. Those offerings make a difference in our lives without awareness of their importance. They add to our lives enriching them and making them fuller.

i saw my grandmother hold out
her hand cupping a small offering
of seed to one of the wild sparrows
that frequented the bird bath she
filled with fresh water every day

she stood still
maybe stopped breathing
while the sparrow looked
at her, then the seed
then back as if he was
judging her character

he jumped into her hand
began to eat
she smiled

a woman holding
a small god

Birdfoot’s Grandpa

A student read this poem today as part of their Language Arts and we discussed the underlying meaning of the poem. It reminded me of a story I heard several years ago. I am unsure whether the story is true, but the underlying idea is one teachers should consider.

A long-time teacher went and sat in a small park next to her school each day during lunch. One day a colleague asked why she spent every lunch break in the park quietly by herself. Her response was “I ask myself whether I want to go back and continue to do what I do. So far, the answer has always been yes.”

Joseph Bruchac’s wonderful poem reminded me of this story. Similar to the toads, each student we come in contact with has places to go to too. It is what should motivate us each day to return to the classrooms we teach in.

The old man
must have stopped our car
two dozen times to climb out
and gather into his hands
the small toads blinded
by our light and leaping,
live drops of rain.

The rain was falling,
a mist about his white hair
and I kept saying
you can’t save them all,
accept it, get back in
we’ve got places to go.

But, leathery hands full
of wet brown life,
knee deep in the summer
roadside grass,
he just smiled and said
they have places to go, too.

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