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Sparrow and the Mound of Rope
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"Whatcha doin’ today, Sparrow? And what is that god-awful stuff you're singing?" asked Crow.
"Getting my beak dirty to camouflage myself better," the sparrow answered, waiting for a reaction. When he got none, he continued, "Digging a hole, stupid, what's it look like I'm doing? And the song is called Lament of the Sparrow. I just wrote it. Sorry you don't like it."
"What's all the rope for?" Crow asked, staring up at a mountain of coiled rope whose peak he couldn't even see while standing on the ground.
"You'll see. Just wait."
A little while later the sparrow hopped into his hole and started pulling in some of the rope.
"Whatcha doing down there, Sparrow?" asked Mockingbird the next day, looking down into the now four-foot hole the sparrow had dug out.
"I need dirt for a motocross track," Sparrow answered. "I'm digging, stupid. What's it look like?"
"How long are you gonna be doing this?" Mockingbird asked. "I talked to Crow, who said you were doing this all day yesterday as well." Her gaze held a mocking softness, as if watching a naive child.
"As long as it takes," replied the sparrow.
A little while later Sparrow hopped into his hole and started pulling in more rope.
Days passed. Sparrow was visited by Woodpecker, Cardinal, and Blue Jay.
At first, everyone was more or less friendly. But in time, they became upset by the lament and Sparrow's singular focus, which they couldn’t begin to understand.
"Whatcha doing down there, Sparrow?" asked Robin, who could barely even recognize the sparrow 50 feet deep.
"My uncle told me that if you dig deep enough, you'll find a worm as long as a football field. Can you imagine how rich I'll be when I have enough worm to feed a million birds?"
Robin's mouth opened slightly, as if to question, but no words came out.
Then she said, "Look Sparrow, we're all worried about you. All you do is dig this hole and pull at this rope. It's unhealthy."
"Thanks for the concern Robin, but I've still got a good bit of work to do, ya see?" he said pointing to the still high mountain of rope.
All of the birds started to conspire to put an end to the nonsense. They said amongst themselves:
"We can't let him keep digging."
"What a depressing existence."
"He should be up here flying! That's what we do!"
They agreed to send in the heavy hitters: Peacock and Songbird, the most beautiful-looking and most beautiful-sounding birds, respectively.
They each approached Sparrow one morning. He was so deep they could barely make out his features.
"Hey Sparrow, come on up here! We wanna talk to you!" they yelled.
When Sparrow made it up to the top of his hole, Peacock said, "Look how beautiful I am," and fanned out his feathers in all directions arrogantly.
"And listen to how beautiful I sound!" sang Songbird, continuing his touching melody.
"We've come to remind you of your own beauty. You're meant for more than digging holes," they said at the same time. "All of us got together and agreed that this project has gone on long enough."
"Thanks, fellas," replied Sparrow. "One day I will be done, but that day is not today. As you can see, I still have more work to do.” He pointed at the still high mound of rope.
Over time, all of the other birds gave up on Sparrow. They distanced themselves and then unfriended him.
Sparrow lamented all the more.
Then one day, a wildfire came and burnt down the entire forest.
The only place they could escape was Sparrow's hole, which he generously offered up.
All of the birds were distraught, but unharmed.
"What's the point of ever flying again if the entire forest is burnt down!?" they exclaimed.
"I'd rather die than have to find a new forest!"
"How will we ever get through this!?"
They went to sleep that night in utter despair.
The next morning when they woke, they found Sparrow singing his lament, pulling the rope into the hole. This time Songbird joined him.
Having much respect for Songbird, gratitude for Sparrow, and not much else to do, the others started to join in one by one.
The song, they noticed, felt pretty good to sing, even if it sounded like shit.
"Many beaks make light work," yelled Robin to the others. "Hey Sparrow, what's this rope made out of, by the way?"
"Grief," said Sparrow without missing a beat.
"And if I'm not mistaken, there will be several fresh piles of it at the top of this hole as of last night."
"But why? Why do you keep pulling it in?" asked Peacock, who was really quite functionally useless to the group.
"Oh just wait. You'll see," the Sparrow replied.
Two days passed like this.
Then, if you'd been a deer, or a bobcat, or a possum in the woods on the third day after the fire, you'd have seen a single string of rope scuttling across the barren forest floor.
As the final piece of rope fell into the mile-deep hole, it coiled and covered up every single bird, smothering them.
And if you'd have been that same deer, or bobcat, or possum looking down into the hole, you would have said a prayer for the dead, for all seemed to be lost for those left in that very deep hole.
"Blessed be these poor souls," you might pray. "May they find peace. And may their souls rise again anew."
And your prayers would have been immediately answered, for out of the tangled mess of coiled rope, Sparrow emerged. He was no longer the dingy gray-brown of his forefathers. He was a magnificent pearl white and gold. And he was followed by Crow, and Mockingbird, and Robin and the others. All transformed. And from their mouths came the most triumphant song ever heard.
And should you have been that same deer, or bobcat or possum having said your prayer and having seen what you then saw, you would have thought to yourself, "Well if that isn't pure Joy, I don't know what is."
Inspired by the poem “For Grief” by the late John O’Donahue. Here’s an excerpt:
It becomes hard to trust yourself. All you can depend on now is that Sorrow will remain faithful to itself. More than you, it knows its way And will find the right time To pull and pull the rope of grief Until that coiled hill of tears Has reduced to its last drop.