A Christmas Wish: To Be a Bird
Radio broadcaster Paul Harvey’s distinctive voice and style was a staple in American homes from 1951 until his death in 2009. At Christmas, Harvey would sometimes share a story about a man and some birds. The origin of this story is unknown, although Harvey and others tried for years to determine the author.
“Maybe some things are supposed to be written without credit to any particular individual,” Harvey once said.
In the interest of space, I have made some edits.
The man I’m going to tell you about was not a Scrooge but kind and decent, generous to his family and upright in his dealings with others. But he was not a man of faith and didn’t believe what Christians proclaim. He couldn’t swallow the Jesus story, about God coming to earth as a man. To him, it didn’t make sense and he considered himself too intelligent to pretend otherwise.
“I’m sorry if this distresses you,” he told his wife, “But I’m not going to church with you this Christmas Eve.” He said he would just stay home and wait for them. He stood at the window and watched while his family walked down the street to attend midnight service at their church.
Shortly after they left, it began to snow. The man stood and watched as the flurries got heavier and heavier, then returned to his chair by the fire to read. A short time later, he heard a thud, then another and another. It was soft, like the sound of someone throwing snowballs against the side of his house. When he opened the door to investigate, he saw a flock of birds in the snow, some flopping about while others huddled miserably close to each other, as if trying to share warmth.
Odd for birds to be flying this late, the man thought. Something must have startled them, or maybe they were trying to escape the storm and in their search for shelter, crashed into his house.
The man couldn’t let those poor birds fumble around and freeze to death, so he thought about the little shed where his children once stabled their pony. It was just the sort of shelter those birds needed. He put on his coat and boots and tramped through the deepening snow to the shed, opened the doors and turned on a light, then returned to his house to watch from the window. But the birds did not go in.
The man thought some food might entice them, so he fetched seed and sprinkled it on the snow, making a trail to the open door. To his dismay, the birds still didn’t see the seed or the safety of the shed, and instead continued to shiver in the snow.
Next, he tried to chase them toward the shed by calling to them while waving his arms, but they scattered in every direction — every direction except the shed.
He realized they were afraid of him, reasoning that to the birds, he was a strange and terrifying creature.
If only I could come up with some way to let them know they can trust me, that I’m not trying to hurt them but help them.
But what? Every move he made frightened and confused them. They simply would not follow him to the shed, would not be led or shooed because they were in such fear of him.
If only I could be a bird myself, the man thought. Then I could move among them and speak their language and tell them not to be afraid. Then I could show them the way to where they would be safe and warm. I could lead them to the shed.
But I would need to be one of them.
It was at that moment the church bells began to ring. The man could hear the chimes above the sounds of the whipping wind. He stood, listening to the bells: O Come All Ye Faithful.
It was then that he understood. And sank to his knees in the snow.