I was with a visiting friend recently in a really poor neighborhood in Mexico. Standing on the edge of a small river, we noticed a thin pipe running across the top of opposite banks bringing water from the “civilized” side of the river to the other, where the villagers live without running water. What caught our attention was a line of chickens crossing the river like tightrope walkers, clutching the pipe with their talons. Step over step, they balanced top-heavy bodies, painstakingly making their way across the pipe.
We stood, our heads tilted to one side, mesmerized. It kind of looked to me like a Far Side cartoon.
Finally my friend breaks the silence, “Aren’t chickens … birds?” he asks, hesitating over each word.
“I sure think so,” I casually answer back, not breaking my stare.
“Then … don’t they have … wings?” he persists.
“I guess so, I like to eat chicken wings …” I smile, knowing where he is headed.
He then dives into the river and starts clapping and yelling underneath the birds, trying to scare them off the pole. They very tentatively begin to protest and then unhappily flap their tiny wings and virtually sail across the remaining pipe.
“Yahoo!” he comes climbing back up on the bank, triumphantly flinging himself down. “Although painful for sure, we did them a favor. They never have to step carefully again. They now know they are fliers. They can come across at their leisure, whenever they want.”
We sit down in the dirt, tired from all the excitement, proud.
Several moments of silence pass before our philosophical discussion begins. What pipes do we hold on to, when we have wings to fly? What makes someone cling to what seems secure, but is clearly a harder route to cross? What kinds of things scare us enough to let go and use our “wings?” Do we hold on because everyone else does? Would we be the first to let go, or the last? Do they resent the one who scared them off, or are they now grateful? The questions ensue.
We walk down the road for the next hour, visiting families in a neighborhood outreach, praying with them about troubles I have grown used to seeing, but not callous to hearing. Between each house and visit though, I return to our chicken conversation. It not only makes me giggle, the metaphors were fascinating.
When it is time to return to the river for our things before leaving, I start asking around for a camera. I want a picture of the flying chickens. When we reach the bank, my heart sinks.
Walking again across the tiniest pipe you have ever seen, is our same family of poultry.
“Is that why we call someone a bird brain? Did they really already forget?” I ask frustrated.
My deep-thinking friend shakes his head, “Aren’t we just the same though? Bursts of glory when we let go, then a return to the same old familiar pattern?”
“Not me. No.” I shake my head angrily. “I want to use my wings. I want to be done with careful walking.”
He smiles at me.
“Beth, then it’s time to let yourself be shooed off the pipe.”
In this season of new growth and warm weather, when we shed off our boots and scarves, I want to shed something else. I want to shed my fears of letting go. I want to shed routine and doing what I do because I have always done it.
I want my little chickens to watch me fly and believe there is more to life than hanging on a pipe.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Living Off Grid