If I could take a ride on anything in the world, I’d choose a bird. As a child, I loved the story of Thumbelina, a girl—you guessed it—the size of a thumb. She could stand eye to eye with a frog, sail a fallen leaf across a pond and wear buttercups as hats.
The book illustrations were in a style reminiscent of the Victorians. My favourite was of Thumbelina riding a cerulean blue barn swallow with a burnt orange belly and a split tail. Together they soared above farms, church steeples, and villages. I hope an illustrator one day sees Thumbelina as an Indian girl swooping along the Ganges River, an afroed girl rocking Black Girl Magic a mile above her neighbourhood, or a First Nation girl leaning over a wing to touch the tops of soft pines.
It would be interesting to see the world from a bird’s-eye view, to look downward on the scurrying multitudes and remember that I am but one of millions. My personal struggles would be put into perspective. Then I’d soar higher, for a wider view that reminds me humans are a fraction of what matters on earth. We are stewards and benefactors, sharing the world with many species.
Maybe riding a bird appeals to me now because of the heaviness pressing us to the earth. The pandemic lockdowns hold us from seeing parents, grown children, dear friends. How could we not wish to fly above hand sanitizer, masks, and suffering?
Birds don’t have it easy, constantly on the move with an eye cast for danger. There’s always something bigger, faster, hungrier. Faith tells us not to worry about the future. “Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns” and yet they are fed and cared for. It’s easy to forget faith when all our messaging involves self-sufficiency and clickbait lists on how to fix things.
As a thumb-sized person, I’d need to ask for help sometimes. Could we try a lower altitude? I’m cold. Could you roll to the right a bit? I’m slipping. It’s hard to ask for help. It makes me feel vulnerable and incapable. And yet when someone asks for help and I give it, the exchange is a gift to both of us. In her book, The Art of Asking, Amanda Palmer writes: Asking for help with shame says: You have the power over me. Asking with condescension says: I have power over you. But asking for help with gratitude says: We have the power to help each other.”
In the illustration, Thumbelina held either end of a long blade of grass threaded like reins through the sparrow’s beak. She appeared happy under the illusion that she influenced the bird’s direction. Or maybe her smile was one of gleeful adventure, complete abandon having given herself over to fate. Where will I be led next? It’s scary not knowing where you’re going, (says I who likes to see five steps ahead). Maybe riding a bird is being in the moment, shedding the need-to-know-what’s-next. And just being.
“We put our minds together as one and thank all the birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them the gift of beautiful songs. Each morning they greet the day and with their songs remind us to enjoy and appreciate life.” ~ Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass, (excerpt from Thanksgiving Address)
(Image credit: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21700)
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