Every time I open the papers or my webpage there's news of people doing horrible things. And I do mean horrible. People opening fire in movie theaters, people throwing babies off of a bridge, people eating somebody else's face off. I'm not perfect. Once I got so angry I slapped someone and I think it's made me what I am today, which is somebody always sorry. For example, I make salt water taffy and I give it out to almost anybody. How can people do such horrible things to somebody else? How?
When I was in my mid-twenties I found a little featherless pink baby bird in the street and I took that baby bird home and I did my best to keep it alive by feeding it worms and bread soaked in milk. Each morning as I approached the nest I had made out of Kleenex I expected the little bird to be dead, but no. The feathers kept blooming like flowers, and soon the little pink thing declared itself to be a blue-jay. I'd make little noises every time I fed it so that it might think of me as its mother, little high pitched noises miles away from the real noises a mother bird might make but nonetheless my announcement of me approaching with food. Each time I did this the tiny beak opened wide to the ceiling as if food fell like rain from the sky. My airline pilot brother came up with a great name for this bird: Whisperjet.
And in no time Whisperjet was flying about the house, shitting on couches, shitting on lampshades, shitting on the heads of guests. The time had come to release Whisperjet into the outdoor wild.
I find him in the kitchen on the rim of a pot. I push my forefinger into his chest. He steps upon it. I carry him outdoors.
Whisperjet looks up. Outdoors? Outdoors?
Oh yes, outdoors.
Whisperjet cocks one eye to me and then he's off, and I follow him with my eyes until my little friend becomes too small to see and then...
Yay. Freedom! Whisperjet is free! Yay!
Kind of yay.
Kind of not yay.
Bye bye Whisperjet, my little friend. Bye-bye.
The next morning I discover some sweet bird-shit I hadn't seen before on the toaster and find myself smiling at it. I go outside. I look around. Why not -- I make my Mama noise. I make my Mama noises again but this time I glimpse myself as a sad fool in a bad movie, standing in his yard in his underwear, chirping at the sky. But then by god, Whisperjet circles out of nowhere and lands on my head. This is a fact. This happened. And it happened again and again for months until seasons changed, and cold nights arrived, and then Whisperjet did what blue-jays do I guess, which is go somewhere else.
And so, Bertha, what this says to me is this: that we all begin as desperate and helpless pink things sitting in a busy road, waiting to be scooped up. Anything that offers hope becomes something to cling to, and so we clutch the knees of those who show us some kindness, who make us believe we might be saved. Much of the time, if all goes well, our saviors are some version of our parents, older models of ourselves who seem to know rules we don't yet know, who can do things we can't yet do.
For all to go well, however, we must be wanted. We must be something that is thought of as positive. If we are thought of as something negative, something in the way of more important pleasures, or something that only adds weight to the burden of living, how easy it is then for our saviors to take our pink vulnerability and destroy us. To make us quiet by hitting us and hitting us and hitting us. To solve the problem of our hungers by going away. To teach us life is something from which to cringe. To teach us never to trust, to never open our mouths wide to the big blue sky.
Whisperjet had to rewire himself and rewire himself again and again in order to think of my head as a safe haven to land upon. All it took from me though was reliable, repeated, ordinary kindness.
Bertha, I think it's as easy to train a bird to land on your head as it is to send a child into the world wary and hating and filled with desire for revenge. Both are a cinch. The trick is getting at the thing when it's young, and then having at it.
If you ask me, it's as simple as this: Treat new pink things with regular kindness and the world gets better. Treat new pink things with random nastiness and the world gets worse.
And I do hope, Bertha, that you're plugging a lot of your salt-water taffy into your own mouth, because you sound like an awfully nice lady to me. If I were a bird I would certainly land on your head.