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Birds of a Feather

Birds of a Feather, 2009

Once there was a little bird who lived deep in the forest who was completely without feathers. Bald as a ping-pong ball. Not a single piece of plumage adorned his body. The chief of all the birds of the forest felt sorry for this little bird and approached him one day saying, “Why should you be without any feathers when all of us have plenty of feathers to go around?” So each of the feathered birds brought a feather offering to the featherless bird as a sacred gift. The eagle brought a beautiful brown feather with a white tip. The cardinal a stunning red feather. The crow a deep black one. The jay a feather of the most radiant blue. The dove a white feather, the canary a yellow one, and the parrot a feather of green. Very quickly, the once featherless bird was now completely covered in a riot of colorful plumes. In his delight, he took flight and soared through the forest. As he flew, he spied a sparkling pond nestled in the forest below. He went down for a closer look and was amazed at the glorious creature staring back at him from the water’s reflection, a rainbow of colors shimmering and dancing before his eyes. The once featherless bird was filled with a surge of joy and pride at his new appearance and he began to sing and dance all around the pond.

The once featherless bird returned to his friends and told them how much he appreciated what they had done for him. “I would like to show my gratitude by doing something for all of you,” he chirped. The chief of the birds responded, “That is not necessary as these feathers were a gift of the heart.” But the once featherless bird kept insisting and could not be mollified. Finally, the chief of the birds suggested that perhaps there was something that the once featherless bird could do to show his gratitude. “Deep in the forest,” the chief explained, “there are the most delicious berries to be found. But we never go there because there is also a ferocious tiger who lives in the area and we are always worried that we will become so absorbed in feasting on the berries that we will get eaten. If you would be our lookout, you could warn us if the tiger is coming so we could fly away in time to save ourselves.” The once featherless bird was overjoyed with the possibility of helping that he immediately agreed to provide this service for his friends.

Off they went to berry patch. The once featherless bird flew to the highest tree so that he could survey the entire area while the other birds enjoyed the berries. He looked to the right, he looked to the left with great diligence; there was no sign of the tiger. But he did see that beautiful pond in which he had glimpsed his amazing reflection. He craned his neck, but could not quite see his reflection. He looked around again, saw no tiger, and flew to a slightly lower tree, just a little closer to the pond. He was still too far away. Sweeping the forest floor once again, he spied no tiger so he found a new perch even closer to that sparkling body of water. Very soon, he had positioned himself so that he had a spectacular view of himself. But at that moment, the tiger pounced out of the dense forest and killed many birds and injured many more. Those that escaped confronted the once featherless bird and the chief spoke on behalf of the group: “We gave you those feathers as a sacred pledge. They were never really yours, but came with a responsibility to those who had offered them to you. You betrayed that trust.” One by one the birds of the forest came and took back the feathers they had given. And the once featherless bird was once again left completely featherless.

What a gift we are privileged to share with one another as partners in our kehillah kedoshah, our holy community! Our rich vitality and vibrancy flows not from any one individual but from the synergy that emerges from what each of us contributes to the whole. May we use this time of our summer reJEWvenation to reflect on the unique talents and passions we might offer to strengthen and support our community, which sustains us in so many ways.

“I am not who I was. I am not who I was going to be. You changed that. You are not who you were. You are not who you were going to be. I changed that. Who are we going to be? We are going to be who we never would have been without each another.” (Many thanks to my friend Mark Novak for sharing with me this Native American final blessing and story.)


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