A view from the cage

I’m a serious person, as those who know me will attest. So a decision to write from my bird’s point of view was not taken lightly. In a slight variation of “any port in a storm,” I have concluded that life lessons can be learned anywhere, from any life.

I do not deny, nor do I minimize, the seriousness of the situation we face today as humans (pollution, global warming), Jews (hate on the rise), Americans (hate on the rise), and citizens of an increasingly hostile world. I do, however, think we need to step back and explore behaviors, however avian, that might help us deal with all this.

Some of the things she has taught me require no further explanation:

  • The space between a water feeder and a mirror is a handy place to hide when you’re spying on someone.
  • If you stare at someone’s food long enough, she’ll get disgusted and give you some.
  • There’s no such thing as too much grooming.
  • It’s OK to drink the water you poop in.
  • Who said you can’t peck the hand that feeds you?

Others are more complex, and – dare I say it? — worth emulating.

Snowflake, a white parakeet found two years ago in the street – searching for an honest man? – is not impulsive and does not shout. She asserts, cajoles, invites, and listens, admirable qualities in today’s uncivil political environment. She assesses situations before diving into them, circling new or questionable areas rather than assuming she already has all the information she needs.

She has a lot of sounds, but doesn’t brag about it. Nor does she express contempt for mirror, perch, and Candy (her plastic friend), who don’t talk at all. When spoken to quietly, and with concern, she comes closer. Clearly, she does not consider the speaker weak. Rather, she finds the approach attractive, and reciprocates with honest attention.

That does not mean she is passive. Far from it. When in the presence of those having discussions for the sake of heaven (literally – a Torah study group), she weighs in with her opinions — although, to be fair, “Who’s my pretty girl” and “How ya doin’” don’t generally apply to the subject at hand. [I recently heard of a parakeet who knew dozens of phrases. I’m a bit disappointed, because unless Snowflake is saying things that I can’t decipher, she has limited herself to these two phrases. I know she is capable of doing more, but she’s apparently not interested.]

Snowflake does not seek the limelight. She doesn’t introduce strange or raucous noises into a quiet situation to attract attention to herself or set herself up as a leader of any kind. She adapts quickly to new situations, distractions, and locations, without blaming anyone for the change in circumstances. She knows when to be quiet, what merits comment, and what to overlook. While she revels in the security of her cage, she would not build walls between that cage and the outside world. Otherwise, she’d have further to fly to get to know the birds on the other side.

There is more to be learned from my feathered housemate, but – lacking wings – I may need to focus on these lessons for the time being.

About the Author
Lois Goldrich, from Fair Lawn, NJ, is a writer for The Jewish Standard and a member of Beth Sholom in Teaneck. She served as communications director for The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism for some 15 years, and her late husband, Kenneth Goldrich, created the Luah for the Conservative Movement.