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.