In the end, she found the courage she needed from a sparrow. Later, when she first tried to tell the story, the question inevitably came up: “Why a sparrow? Why not ... oh .. an eagle, for instance?” The question had confused her for a while, trying to find an intelligent response, but then she realised that the answer was actually simple, and lay inside herself. It was all a question of identification. Eagles were already strong, already magnificent, they didn’t need courage, at least not the kind that she needed, because they already had power and glory. She found no power and glory inside herself, only weakness, and fear and fragility. The eagles would always soar without her
But sparrows? Ah, they were different. They were small and timid and drab, the natural prey of bigger, fiercer creatures. She could feel a real affinity with sparrows.
She had lived all her life in bondage to grief and shame. All her life, wherever she was put, the same messages were repeated, messages of personal failure, of never being good enough. She had watched the bright ones and the beautiful ones walk off with all the prizes, while she cowered, forgotten in a corner – a drab little sparrow. There were times when she had almost felt the need to apologise for taking up air to breathe. And, like a sparrow at a cafe, she would make little darting forays around the periphery of life, picking up the tiny crumbs of kindness that happened to fall in her direction.
Once she had heard some preacher say that that a person was worth many sparrows. It was a nice idea, but she didn’t really believe it, at least not to apply to herself. She knew that she was worth almost nothing – because she had been told so all her life. It didn’t matter that she had a big, secret, wonderful dream, she knew that it would never happen to her, because how could she take the necessary first steps? Sometimes she would half-heartedly pray, but with no expectation that would ever be an answer.
But one day she saw the sparrow, and discovered hope. She had come into a cafe to get out of the weather, and was sitting in the darkest corner nursing her drink when the sparrow came. It was not just hopping and fluttering around the outdoor chairs and tables to cautiously seek the crumbs; it came right through the door, into the room, and perched on the counter. The red-faced man behind the counter saw it, reached down underneath, and brought out a small piece of bread, which he proceeded to crumble into a small neat pile on the countertop. And, whilst she scarcely dared to blink her wondering eyes, the sparrow hopped right up there, next to the man, and ate its little feast. Then, when it had finished, it flew once around the cafe then back past the door into the wild and windy world.
Afterwards, she was never quite sure at what point she had said to herself “if he can do it, so can I!” but by the time the sparrow had left, the decision was made. With unusual briskness she rose, paid her bill, and strode out into the spattering rain, with the first steps already formulating in her mind. As she raised her eyes, her attention was caught by a church billboard she was walking past: “I have set before you an open door which no man can shut ..”
It was enough, it was her answer and her miracle. Maybe, at least to God, she could be worth even more than that sparrow? She swirled the idea around in her mind, tasting its sweetness ..