Trying To Be Famous

I live on the fourth floor of an apartment building in the heart of a quaint town along the coast of New England. This leaves few things to be desired, but I do miss having even the smallest of yards in which to observe nature from my window each morning. Because of this, I purchased a bird feeder to hang on my fire escape. With great zest and enthusiasm, I hung the food feet away from my window on a gorgeous Sunday morning. For the next few days I sat at my desk writing and marveled in the serenity of having, that’s right, absolutely zero birds partake in my feast. I can hear Wendell Berry snickering from 800 miles away.

In and of itself, this isn’t necessarily surprising. To a bird, a fire escape with an enthusiastic human in large rimmed glasses sitting next to it must look like some sort of death trap. I tried hiding and even closed the blinds. Nothing worked. As days went by I found myself in different stages of grief over the lack of birds at my feeder, everything from anger (I may have called down curses of heaven on all God’s lil’ sparrows, forgive me Lord) to denial (“Who needs birds anyways? Stupid things can’t even walk properly”). In a small, insignificant but nonetheless very real way it hurt to see my efforts at contributing to the greater good go to waste.

For the first thirteen years of my life, I wanted to be a famous football player. Then I entered high school. Instead of touchdowns and game-savers, I spent my high school football “career” either as a placeholder for our bench or digging myself out of some crater I’d been propelled into by an All-State linebacker named “Thor”. The most I contributed to a single victory was my innate ability to carry water bottles during a time-out. So I took up writing.

For the next few years, I put myself to the task of writing everything from fiction to poetry, blogs, essays and-every now and then-my college assignments. As narcissism goes, I started pretty high on the writer’s scale and figured the world’s well-being had to necessitate my work. So I began submitting it for publication. As inevitable rejections arrived, I kept these letters in a nice little folder so that after my first Pulitzer I could frame them or perhaps send a (nice, considerate and entirely professional) email to all the losers that rejected me way back when. As years go by, I’m becoming increasingly certain that won’t happen so I’ve started using the rejection letters as fire starters in the winter.

I’ll probably never be a famous author or athlete and if the past few days are any prediction, I’ll never be famous to the birds outside my window. The vacant birdfeeder will become another relic of my humbling before the Divine. When I do things for hope of being recognized or famous, the world becomes a vending machine of trophies and my pathetic efforts turn into loose change I’m constantly jamming down it’s throat. I turn the prayer “thy kingdom come” into a motivational saying and align it with my desires. If these are the means to fame the world needs less of it.

Today as I was sitting at my desk, a lone sparrow landed inquisitively on my fire escape, inches from the feeder. I jumped out of my seat, naturally scaring the bird away. Running downstairs, I grabbed a stale bagel from my kitchen, which I crumbled and presented on the fire escape like another sacrifice to appease the sparrow gods. Nothing has happened since.

I’m glad I’ll never be famous because this means I’ll never stop trying, never stop searching for grace around me. Fame is nothing more than recognition for what’s been accomplished in the eyes of the many, but in doing so it overlooks the few. It glances over the benchwarmers, the rejection letters and the quiet whispers of pure desire. If I’m ever to be famous, then I want to be famous to the few. I want to be famous to the sparrows and the benches of this world. I want to be famous, as Naomi Shihab Nye put it, not because I’ve done anything spectacular, but because I never forget what I’m capable of doing. I’m capable of trying my best even if it ends with sitting on a bench. I’m capable of embracing grace as often as I see it and putting forth little bits of goodness in return: bread crumbs on for sparrows, rejection letters in the fire and the prayer that all of these might bring about joy “as it is in heaven”. I want to be famous in remembering this.

Mostly, though, I just want to see some birds.

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12 thoughts on “Trying To Be Famous

  1. seriously, you are one whacko dude! and someday you’ll prob’ly hafta shoo away the birds!
    now, i’ve set a tray with sand outside my office window, and eventually, the locomotive cactus creatures might approach. one does hafta be much more patient than am i …

  2. Thank you for this post. It’s interesting how you connect your stories in a cohesive way. I was thinking of my motives in doing the things I do lately. All too often, my craving for recognition worms its way in my motives and I end up frustrated that God won’t give me my expected results. Thank you for this reminder of God’s grace. Truly, God’s lessons in humility makes me want to try all the more to work for His glory. 🙂

    1. Thank you for your response, I agree. Even in writing, I find that the slightest hint of self-obsession or motivation turns something that could have been beautiful into a wreck of wonder stained with my ego. It’s frustrating but in an oxymoronic way the more I let go of myself the more I find myself in my proper, infamous but blessed place.

  3. My you find you fame within, before the rest of us discover it without. I really enjoy the cadence of your writing…it is strangely comforting in a world of loud voices and less than reasoned intellects. Keep up the greatness within you.

    1. Thank you for your response although I would say that my point is the greatness was never within me, it took understanding that to discover that greatness, as you put it, is waiting to be discovered when I let go of myself. I hope you continue to read and interact.

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