I wrote this little story many years ago, after being captivated by the children’s stories of Oscar Wilde. Just like his allegories, this not really a story for kids. It’s a story for the adults who read them aloud to kids.
I decided to share it with you today in honor of my neighbor, Sharon. Years ago, she lived in Arkansas, taking care of her ailing mother. All day and all night, she heard mournful barking and howling next door. A little gray schnauzer was cooped up in a pen in the backyard. No one ever played with him. He was very lonely. His owner, a young girl, had been killed in a car accident, and the dog was too much of a painful reminder to the girl’s parents. So they kept him penned up in the back.
Sharon had never been a dog person. In fact, she didn’t even like dogs. But she was so annoyed by the constant barking and howling that she took pity on him. She stole him.
Several days later, the dog’s owner knocked on her door and asked if she had seen “Snoopy” anywhere, and she said, “Yes, he’s here in my house because no one ever pays attention to him when he’s locked up in that pen in your back yard, and he howls all day long. Do you want him back?”
The man gave Snoopy to Sharon, knowing he would have a better life.
Already in her 50s, Sharon had no idea what to do with a dog. But she learned. And slowly, Snoopy made paw prints on her heart and they became inseparable. After Sharon’s mother passed away, she moved to Dallas, and I first met her and Snoopy when she was unloading her moving truck, about to become my new neighbor.
For the past 2 years, Snoopy has been slowing down. At 16 years old, he had already outlived many schnauzers. It was not easy for Sharon to watch him decline in health, like she had to watch her Mother.
Today, Sharon made the painful decision to let Snoopy go. I took them to the vet, and then to the crematory. Sharon wants to take Snoopy’s ashes to the grave of the little girl who had been Snoopy’s first mommy.
The loss of a pet companion is heartbreaking. Animal companions have a way of sneaking deeper into our hearts than most people. Snoopy completely changed Sharon’s life. So, to them, I dedicate this little story…
The Tale of the Little Bird and the Silent Statue
Once upon a time, there was a little bird. He lived by the sea, and every day he would fly high above the foam-capped waves and cry to the clouds, “I am ME!”
This was not a particularly articulate bird, mind you, for he never listened in school. But he was very intelligent and very spirited…and very bold and independent.
One day, he was soaring higher than he had ever flown before, high above the misty, troubled seas. The sharp wind tussled the feathers of his face, but still higher he flew. The wind grew frigid and the sky became dark. A great black cloud spouting fire rose up in the distance. This made the little bird fly just a bit slower, but only for a moment…for he regained his courage, sharpened his wings, and sped even faster and higher. He did not know why he felt the need to fly this far from shore. Yet the need was still there.
The black cloud reached out with spindly, fiery talons to clutch at the little bird. Yet on he flew. The wind grew bitter cold and fierce, and the little bird could not see. Fear began to tug at the little bird’s heart, and as icy drops of rain spit at his face, he began to wonder if he would ever see land again.
Thunder crashed like a cannon in his little ears, and the wind tossed him about until he was quite dizzy. Soon, he had exhausted all his strength, and his senses began to fade into a blackness as deep as the storm that surrounded him.
The sun pierced the sky brilliantly, stinging the dripping trees and grass, frightening away the soggy shadows and filling the sky with sharp yellow light.
The little bird slowly opened his eyes…one at a time, mind you, for he had a terrible headache…and found himself in quite an appalling state. His feathers were matted and rubbed into a ruinous tangle. His tail had been plucked away. His feet were bruised, his beak was torn, and his eyelids were very swollen.
He lay quiet and still until the ground came to a complete stop, and then gingerly looked about himself. He was quite lost, he decided, for all about him was a shocking amount of green. There was very little green in the seaport where he lived. It was always gray and dull, a maze of concrete, metal, and dingy water. But here…here was different! The sky was a pristine cobalt blue and deep hues of green had been draped everywhere.
“I am not on the ground,” he thought, “For down there it is very wet, and I am quite dry.”
He was an observant little bird, considering the night he had just endured. Indeed, he was not lying on the ground, but nestled inside the cupped hands of a large, old statue standing in the middle of a grove of ancient oak trees. It frightened the little bird when he first saw the statue’s weather-streaked face staring stonily at him. But once he realized that the statue was not moving, he began to calm down again.
“Thank you, Statue,” said the little bird cautiously, “for I would be quite soggy right now if it weren’t for your big hands.”
The statue said nothing.
“I must have blown in with the storm, for I have never seen a land like this. Where am I?”
The statue said nothing.
“He must be asleep,” thought the little bird. “Ah, well, I have thanked him enough. Now I shall return to my home.”
He stretched his wings to fly away, but one of them would not quite do what he told it. It just hung awkwardly at his side. A few seconds later, the pain hit him with force and he barely had time to realize that his wing was broken before the unhappy darkness swept over him again.
When the little bird awoke, he thought it was beginning to rain again because a drop of water had splashed gently across his ruined beak. He turned his stiff little neck up to the sky, but there was not a cloud in sight.
“How odd,” thought the little bird. “In this land, it does not have to be cloudy to rain.”
Splash! Another drop bounced off the top of his head and again he turned his eye skyward. This time, he saw the source of the drops.
Beneath the stony glare of the statue’s weathered eyes were deep grooves, and out of these grooves dripped heavy tears, one by one, drop by sorrowful drop, until they splashed wetly onto the little bird’s head.
“Excuse me!” cried the little bird, “But your tears are falling on my head and making me wet. Why are you crying?”
The statue said nothing.
“Well it won’t do you much good to cry all day without talking about it!”
Still, the statue did not reply.
“Why won’t you answer me?” the little bird pouted. He was angry at the statue, and his little feelings were hurt.
But still, the statue would not say a thing.
The little bird was frustrated. He had never been in such a predicament. He was lost in a strange green land. His wing was broken, his tail was gone, his beak was ruined, and his feet hurt very badly. And now a statue was crying on him. He tried to crawl back as far into the statue’s cupped hands as he could, but the tears kept falling. Now they were trickling down his back onto his little broken wing. The salt from the tears stung his flesh and he began to understand how seriously he was hurt.
He crouched in the stony haven and shivered as the sun chased the horizon into dusk. Vicious, spidery tendrils of shadow crept over the bright greens and blues, swallowing them into a drab gray. The little bird perked his head as the unfamiliar sounds of the night began to rise out of the emptiness. From over the distant hills drifted the mournful howl of a coyote… From high overhead, an owl questioned the little bird with a haunting “Who? Who?”… And as the gnarled ropes of darkness strangled the last rays of sunshine into oblivion, an orchestra of crickets began their synchronous symphony to the night.
This terrified the little bird. He had never heard such strange and frightening noises before. Forgetting the pain searing into his broken wing, he threw himself upon the cold stone of the statue’s hand. He desperately needed to feel its touch on as much of his broken little body as possible. He sobbed fitfully as bony fingers of darkness tried to pry him away from his protector.
“Please, Mr. Statue, please! Save me!” he cried, his little voice getting weaker with each breath.
But the statue said nothing.
Only the drip, drip, drip of its tears as they steadily increased.
The fingers clutched harder at the little bird. He held onto the statue with all his might, but everyone knows little birds don’t have hands. And his already-bruised feathers were losing strength as the icy talons tugged furiously at him, inching him closer to the edge of the faithful stone hand that protected him from the swirling inferno of night-sounds and darkness that threatened to swallow him whole.
The little bird screamed and the shrill sound of his cry pierced the night like a sword. If he had not been in such a desperate state, he might have noticed that the statue’s hands seemed to close protectively around him just a bit…perhaps it was imagination, nothing more.
But perhaps not.
The fury of the cold night monster flared up around the shattered little bird as he wept and cried formless words and pleas to the statue. The statue was his only life. His only hope. Yet it would not speak to him. Not a word of comfort. He could not understand. And the icy spider claws were closing now about his throat, determined to stifle his cries for help.
Suddenly, a wave of silence swept over the land, almost as if time had stopped. Though it was the dead of night, the little bird for an instant saw the sun high in the sky, the soft green of the trees and the fields, and the shocking blue of the sky. He looked above and saw the statue that was his protector smiling down at him. He saw within the statue’s stony chest a heart bigger and redder than any he had ever seen. But he also saw that the statue’s mouth had been shut…nailed shut long ago by evil men…shut so tight that nothing could ever open it again. And he saw in the statue’s heart an overwhelming love that he could not understand. A love that the statue would never be able to explain to him. And as the glorious vision began to fall apart, piece by ragged, darkening piece, he saw a single, final tear fall from the statue’s hollow eye. A tear of sadness. A tear of pain.
A tear of love.
The tear fell onto the little bird’s throat and softened the pain of the death tendrils that were tightening ever so furiously. And as the vision of the statue blurred away into night, the little bird felt strangely quiet and peaceful…and somehow a much more wonderful bird than he had ever felt before. And somehow, he no longer needed the words of the statue to comfort him. The tear had been enough.
The sun rose brilliantly on the verdant valley, seeming more hostile to the shadows of night than it had been the morning before. The darkness fled, as if guilty, into the recesses of the distant hills.
The gracious light bathed a stand of stately oak trees in pale yellow light, caressing their branches with warmth. In the center of the trees, the light found an old weathered statue, strangely moist from the dew. In the statue’s outstretched hand, a remnant of evil night still lurked.
As the sun rose higher, it chased away the goblin shadow, and revealed a little bird, stretched lifeless upon the rough hewn stone. His feet were shattered and his beak was ruined. His wing was broken and his tail was gone. Yet on his neck, the sun found a single bright diamond-drop of dew, shining brilliantly in the light. Its rays reached out toward the statue and caressed its face, kissing it lightly on the lips.
Suddenly, with a loud crack, two nails fell from the mouth of the statue and crashed to the ground.
The trees waited in silence and awe, for they were still saplings when the statue’s mouth had been nailed shut.
The statue wiggled its jaw very slightly, to work out the kinks of hundreds of years of silence. When it was certain its mouth could move sufficiently, it cleared its rusty throat in preparation.
All Nature held its breath in anticipation of the statue’s words.
The statue looked down at the body of the broken little bird, and its heart surged within its stony chest…
And the state said nothing.
For it could find nothing to say.