Once upon a time there was a family of Indigo Buntings; well, at first there were only the parents and a nest with four eggs in it. But the parents were hard working and knew how to prepare for the arrival of the quadruplets-to-be–having built a solid nest that was well hidden from raccoons, snakes and other predators—or as well prepared as any of us can be in this unpredictable world.
Then one day there were five eggs in the nest, one of them bigger than the original four. But buntings are not math majors and—in ways that human beings may have difficulty imagining—they simply serve whomever shows up holding an empty plate. Humans often call this behavior “instinctual”, as if an unpremeditated spirit of giving is somehow less than our own often conflicted gestures of “generosity”.
Presently, all five eggs were shaking with the life they had protected during the previous weeks. And before long there were five young beings, all clamoring for food. This situation was not so different than for an infant human who cries when feelings of emptiness reach a certain intensity. It’s as if the body that is crying leaves no place for the heart and mind to do more than look on like spectators at a tennis match.
The cuckoo chick grew faster than his bunting siblings; and he couldn’t prevent himself from reaching up over their heads, as if unaware of their plaintive cries, and grabbing the seeds that the parents kept delivering to the nest as quickly as they could find them.
Over the following days and weeks, he sensed that he didn’t really belong in this nest. He could see that his siblings were not thriving and that the parents were becoming exhausted trying to satisfy the insatiable needs of their children—both biological and adopted—but be couldn’t prevent himself from reaching up and taking whatever was offered. Unable to quell his reflexive reactions and increasingly aware that he was harming those closest to him, his self-esteem plummeted. As his sense of worth evaporated, a need to be acknowledged and valued—to do something worthwhile with his life–became his daily obsession. Yet, as much as he wished it, he was unable to just step aside and let his siblings have their fair share, which would also have let his parents feel that they were doing a good job.
He became torn inside: between his own needs and his sense that his very presence was hurting others.
Then one day, while his parents were foraging high and low in the forest for a dwindling supply of food, he heard a rustling in the underbrush beneath the tree in which their nest was wedged in the crook of two branches. There he saw a creature with a striped back and flashing teeth and claws. The chicks all fell silent, but somehow the raccoon looked up and saw him, as he leaned over the edge of the nest.
The raccoon turned and with chilling purpose started to climb up the trunk.
A voice seemed to speak within his feathered being, as if it was a destiny that had long been awaiting him. He toppled out of the nest, plummeting past the climbing raccoon, and landed among the ferns and fallen leaves. It didn’t take the raccoon more than a few seconds to jump down and devour the small body—well not all that small compared to his siblings who, with his last embodied thought, he hoped would be saved for another day. And strangely, this cuckoo emigrant from another corner of the forest had a feeling he had never experienced before: he felt like he finally belonged.
Saint Francis was waiting for him. And when this cuckoo bird winged his way over the edge of another realm, for which the only price of admission was an awakened heart, Saint Francis smiled and said, “Well done, my child. You are to stay here with me now.”