During the last week of February, I was working at my dining table in the den, clicking back and forth on my computer between news of the war in Ukraine and the work I needed to be doing, when I heard angry squawking that sounded very much like a summons.
I walked outside to find a sparrow lit upon the tea olive next to the house. Clearly, she was there to show me that the tiny fragrant flowers were in bloom. She seemed to be asking, “Did you not notice that the daffodils opened up three weeks ago? Don’t you see the crocus?”
As with any person who has owned pets and shared a home with animals, I wonder at the level of sentience with all creatures great and small. How aware was this tiny bird? There’s a fair chance that this very sparrow had been hatched in one of the three birdhouses triangulating the terrace. She couldn’t have known that cleaning out the old nests from those birdhouses was my job. Yet, I felt her eye upon me.
Then the old hymn, “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” came into my head. I will confess that this song is not one that I am particularly fond of – ‘tis a bit schmaltzy for my taste – but mine is a brain that is invaded by tunes, unbiddenly. I laughed when I recalled the line, “... and I know He watches me.” I thought to myself, “God is watching that bird. That bird is watching me. How about that? God has a middle-man – a middle-bird, as it were.”
• • •
Just like you, I have seen the pictures from Ukraine and I have read the stories. In order to feel a big news event, I tend to dwell on smaller narratives. Over the radio, I just heard a report of a woman testifying before the United Nations about fleeing her home in the Crimean peninsula back in 2014. What she was saying was utterly relatable; she was grieving her garden and her flowers.
Earlier today, I watched a video of a woman in Kyiv opening up her white grand piano and dusting off the keys for the last time before abandoning her bombed-out home. The person operating the camera panned around the house showing the toppled-down walls and rubble as the woman in a wool knit hat and winter coat played with virtuosic defiance.
Meanwhile, here on the other side of the world, those same old questions arrive in our hearts. What can one person do?
Many would say we should pray. My response to this is always the same – people in the Bible do a lot of praying, but most of those people are putting their prayers into action.
So, pray. Pray for wisdom. Pray to recognize good from evil. Pray for people in all war-torn lands, and be generous as you find a reputable place to give your gifts of support.
Yes, I do know the scripture from which “His Eye Is On the Sparrow” is derived. “Consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns…” (Matthew 6:26) Yet, still, I watch my sparrows closely, and it’s true, they don’t gather into barns, but they do gather. And they are in constant motion, building their nests and caring for their young. Sparrows are busy birds.
Yes, please pray. And as the old British World War II poster reminds us: “Keep calm and carry on.”
And clean out your birdhouses.
Andy Irwin is a native of Covington and a natural storyteller, humorist, singer, songwriter, musician, whistler and human noise maker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.