There’s this neighborhood guy that some call “The Birdman.” He’s maybe about 5 foot 9, has thick but somewhat receding dark brown hair, and he’s right around 50 years old. Sometime during his early 20s he was in a very bad car accident, and, among other things, hit his head hard during the crash.
For most of the last 17 years, he has had a very steady job in custodial — until a series of run-ins with his supervisor led to his ouster.
After a period of unemployment, accompanied with some depression, he’s now working again and is back at his favorite hobby — talking to and feeding the birds and squirrels.
Early this evening I ran into Mark (the Birdman’s real name) just after he finished dumping some seeds under a tree. Walking across the street, he whistled into the sky, shifting his sound to mimic his favorite birds. Seeing me, he stopped and said, “Cinnamon Girl, you should have seen her, she flew across the alley then dove straight down.” He made a swooping motion with his hand, and then said, “It was so cool.” I said, ‘I love you, Cinnamon Girl.’ I know she love’s me.”
He laughed in a very carefree way, nothing like the bitter snickering that accompanied his every other word during the long winter of unemployment he had just gone through.
Suzuki Roshi once said, “Trying to become someone else, you lose your practice and your virtue. When you are faithful to your position or your work, your true being is there.”
Some people don’t really know how to handle The Birdman. I have watched a few people — all older adults who you would think had left their high school antics behind — set fires under Mark by picking fights with him and belittling his love of the most common of city animals. Others I have seen laughing at his whistling and calling of names into the air — Cinnamon Girl is just one of many that has been given a name. Still others are simply perplexed by the grown man standing in the alley with a bucket of seed calling sweet nothings into the trees.
I sometimes wonder if Mark isn’t a modern day St. Francis, sans the Christian overlay. There are even stories of Francis preaching to the birds of God’s love for them. With Mark, the middleman has been taken out, and love is simply transmitted from his heart to birds and back.
In some ways, it would have been interesting to know what The Birdman was like before the accident. However, at the same time, it really doesn’t matter much in the great scheme of things. There is something divine in his presence as it is, even though he is just another ordinary guy, with ordinary ups and downs like the rest of us.
And isn’t that the greatness of it all — that anyone can let their “true being” be present, even if only for a little bit. And for those of us who notice it, life could never be dull, never be boring. Those birds and squirrels are very lucky, and so is Mark. And the rest of us are better for having met someone like him — a person who is able to drop off social conventions and just be who he truly is.
“Chickadees” Auburnxc @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.