While recently visiting in Boston, I stayed on the third floor of an old Victorian bed and breakfast. What I found curious about the old house were all the staircases and winding hallways, a true maze. An elaborate, broad staircase led from the first floor sitting and dining rooms to the second floor. There was also a servants’ stair near the kitchen. To get to the third floor, one took the broad stair off the dining room and then switched to the servants’ stair and then to a tiny, very narrow stair at the rear of the house, which was hidden behind a closed door, and so narrow that one could only go up sideways.
It was halfway up this narrow stairway, that on the fourth morning I found the small black and white starling. I had found it curious earlier that the landing was littered with pieces of string and bits of wood. When I saw the round, black and white bird, I knew they were his. After several failed attempts to coax him up the stairs, I went for help.
On the first floor was a very busy, harried-looking woman, rushing into the dining room which was completely full of hungry, anticipating guests.
I said to her, “There’s a bird upstairs.”
She was instantly alert, eyes wide open. She stopped, frozen, mid-movement, arms full of steaming, hot breakfasts and asked, “Where?
I said, “In the tiny staircase and I can’t get him out.”
She put all the plates down on the nearest buffet and we rushed for the stairs. She thrust two corn muffins into my hands. I asked, “What about all these people- the 40 or 50 of them in the dining room. She answered, “They’ll take care of themselves.”
We hurried up to the third floor and found the nesting material on the landing. She gathered them up and opened the storm window wide and said, “I’ll put his things on the sill.”
For a moment, I imagined “his things” were a tiny suitcase and an umbrella. Another of her guests perhaps.
Then we spotted the starling mid-way up the stairs. We oooh-ed and aaah-ed in appreciation of his spectacular beauty. We speculated about how he could have even gotten to the third floor, around so many twists and turns.
Then she bent closer, squinted at him and said, “You know, I think I know him – he’s one of the birds I feed every morning. If I don’t come out on time to feed them, they make such a racket, it wakes up the neighbors! He must have come in for more. The little pig.”
The open window was at the top of the stairs. The starling is now mid-way up the stairs. At the bottom of the stairs on the second floor was a door. She ran down an alternate staircase and knocked on the closed door. The bird looked at the door – unmoved.
“What’s he doing,” she whispered.
“Staring at the door,” I answered.
The next thing I see, she has opened the door a crack and is waving a large piece of paper at the bird. He’s fascinated and stares transfixed at the paper. Next she enters the staircase, waving paper in both hands, one might say – flapping her wings – and making bird noises.
By now she is in full flap – large wing-arms, whooping noises, coming up the stairs.
I spread my “wings” and guide the bird down the hall toward the open window, describing to him or her in vivid detail the wonders of the great outdoors. The starling pauses at the open window, poops on the carpeted floor, focuses on the nesting material on the window sill and flies out into the cold, New England air. Too much corn muffin, I thought.
We hugged each other laughing, in relief and in recognition that finding a like-spirit for this particular task was a remarkable “gift.” We looked out the window, and the starling was gone.
When we reached the first floor, I asked her name.
* * * * * * *
You have just read a simple story about a simple event, a simple illustration of a very complex idea. But that’s how it happens -something so very ordinary pointing to the extraordinary, if we but open our eyes.
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18: 20)
This is when quotes from Scripture “come home” for me and I understand them. In the story I’ve told, at that single point in time, I shared one thought and one purpose only with a complete stranger. We became an instant community of two. For a few minutes, we were locked together in an endeavor to help the starling. For the duration of that experience, we were completely in sync, in total cooperation, even telepathically connected, anticipating each others’ thoughts and actions, acting as one, reflecting each other, directing all of our energy toward a single goal – the welfare of the little starling. Little else, not even time, existed for us.
This experience –this remarkable gift – is a glimpse into something so much greater – the importance and the value of community and connectedness to all of us. In deeply connecting with one another, in gathering together in intentional communities (large or small), we have the opportunity to heal what separates us, to share moments of connectedness, to recognize and honor our commonality, to live more intensely, to experience moments of transcendence, to awaken.
What does it mean that God is with them, with us? God is with us when we “come awake” to something greater, to our connectedness, to life a little bit bigger, to life expanding its intensity and thereby our consciousness. How often Nature and animals draw us out of our complex human drama and deposit us into a moment of peace, joy, and purpose – connecting and aligning us with God’s immanence, with Her creation! Are the other creatures with whom we share this planet God’s messengers sent to wake us up, to save us? Is that why small children so newly arrived from Source revel in pretending to be little animals in their joy-filled walking and talking?
What do they remember that we have forgotten?