Jim the High-Flier

What was a I complaining about?

Pastor Grenville Kent is creative director at Adventist Media in Sydney, Australia and a traveling speaker at youth outreaches. He and his wife Carla enjoy surfing, reading and the novelty of parenthood.

My mother-in-law Ann ...

No, gentle reader, don't think that bitter twisted thought! You'll get no in-law jokes from me. Mine's lovely—even if she does have tattoos and ride a Harley. She didn't mean to run over the guide dog. We get on well: when she visits my house, I don't try to run her life, and I don't try to run my life. Seriously, she's a lovely woman. She was out walking and saw a baby bird lying on the footpath. It had one eyes, no feathers, and an army of hungry ants swarming all over it.

High above was a nest, and a mother feeding chicks. Ann guessed that this little fellow had hatched with one eyes, and the mother had squawked "Reject!" and thrown him out of the nest to die. He was weak but his face looked determined. He wasn't getting ready to tell his social worker about his rough childhood. He was thinking, I've got not time to be a victim—I'm gonna have a life!

As ants bit him, even crawling into his throat, he was wriggling in a huge effort to survive. Ann's maternal instincts clicked on. She has sympathy for strays—which is why she let me near her daughters. She had to take him home.

She picked off all the ants with tweezers and fed him warm water and honey, then Weet-Bix and milk, then mashed egg. He hoed in with great gusto, and even tried biting the spoon.

The kids named him Tim after a favorite uncle, but as he grew it became clear that he was not a fancy parrot with a flashy designer ward­robe. He was growing boring brown and grey feathers typical for plain old sparrows. Luckily no-one told him he was ordinary.

Tim had no bird example to copy, so he thought he was human. This gave him great confidence, but it meant he didn't use the feathers he was growing—he only walked. Ann decided to teach him to fly. She's a Qantas Frequent Flyer. (Please note I said nothing about broom-sticks­you don't make those jokes when your mother-in-law has Mafia connections.)

But how do you teach a bird to fly? Ann held him high and dropped him. He probably thought, "Oh, no—another mother is throwing me away," but even in his panic he tried. He flapped like made from instinct until she aught him just above the floor. He would hang on like mad. ("No„ no, please —not that again.") Gradually it became a game. He got used to the feel of the wind and learned to slow his fall, then lift his body weight on his wings, then to make short hops. Ann watched with awe and a little envy as he discovered the mystery of flight.

Eventually Tim became a seasoned stunt pilot. He could land gently on moving heads (the avian equivalent of an aircraft carrier landing in a storm by night). He could even manage low traction runways on bald heads without using his claws.

Tim became family. He flew down at 6 a.m. to pull the curls behind Ann's ears and chirp, "Get up, get up! Feed me! It's time to live again! Whoopee!" When Ann and Mike went for a walk, he went for a fly beside them. He would come to the beach and play in the trees until the family shouted, "Come on, Tim!", then come down and ride home on someone's head in the car.

When visitors came, Tim landed on the knee or arm of each one in turn, and sang a conversation. No one could believe that "just a plaid old sparrow" had so much personality. Mike said that if we think plain, ordinary people aren't worth our time, we miss out on a lot. He'd repeat Jesus' words: "You can buy two sparrows for a dollar but I'm telling you that when one of them dies, God Himself notices. So relax, you're worth even more than sparrows."

Once a cat stalked Tim as he chattered away on Mike's finger in the garden. Mike was studying intently and Tim lacked peripheral vision, so they knew nothing until the moggie launched, its claws ripping across Tim's belly, opening up a huge gash, and finally stopping deep in Mike's finger.

Mike yelled and gave the cat a flying lesson over a fence. Tim's intestines were hanging out in loops onto the ground and he had his tough, determined face on.

Mike rushed next door to a retired medical missionary. He had no medical supplies, but he found a needle and thread in his wife's sewing kit and cleaned it with methylated spirits. As Mike held Tim's innards in, he carefully sewed. Then he gave Mike some attention. Tim had no time to be a victim—he was flying again in 15 minutes.

One spring, Mike and Ann went on holidays for a week. The neighbor bird sat him lovingly, but he fretted for his people. As they went for a walk/fly, Tim saw his first female sparrow. Hoomba, hoomba! It was like he had flown into a window. As he flew to her singing, the neighbor almost heard Adam's words, At last—this is flesh of my flesh!"

The neighbor watched, worried that she might reject him for his missing eye, but Tim was as confident as ever, singing with great brio ("I only have eye for you"). He won her heart and after a farewell victory lap, he went off with her.

When Mike and Ann came home, they were happy for him, but worried that he had no skills to survive in the wild. But Tim built her a masterful nest in the local dairy. Occasionally they'd see a one-eyed sparrow rushing around finding food for the love of his life and their six perfect young.

Now, what was a I complaining about?