ValueSpeak - A Weekly Column by Joseph Walker


One day a few years ago we had a guest, of the uninvited variety.

I know – scary.  But this time it was OK, because this uninvited guest ate like a bird.

In fact, this uninvited guest WAS a bird – a sparrow, to be more precise, and a small one at that. Somehow the little bird had flown into our open garage, where it perched to rest from the rigors of . . . well, whatever it is that sparrows do. At least, I assume that’s why it came in. I don’t know for sure because I didn’t see it until I went to leave. Then I heard the bird before I saw it.

“What’s that?” I asked when I first heard the gentle thump-thump-thumping.

“It sounds like Joe is outside playing basketball,” my wife, Anita, said.

“Nah,” I said. “That doesn’t sound like basketball going on out there. Besides, Joe broke the unbreakable rim, remember?”

Anita paused and listened more intently. “It’s coming from the garage,” she said. “Maybe it’s one of the little kids.”

We looked at each other and the same thought popped into our minds simultaneously.


We hustled out the door. Jonathan, our youngest, was as cute as a little terrorist could be. “If he’s making holes in the wall again . . .” I said as I peered into the garage.  No Jonathan. No children at all. But there was that sound again, coming from right . . . up . . . there . . .

And that’s when I saw the sparrow. It was flying anxiously (do sparrows know any other way to fly?) just inches below the plasterboard ceiling of our garage. It was clearly trying to get out, but couldn’t see that the way out was not up, but down and out through the open garage door. So the bird continued flapping its wings and bumping its little head against the ceiling.

“Poor thing,” Anita said. “It must be terrified.”

“Well, maybe I can terrify it right out of here,” I said as I moved toward where the bird was hovering. I tried to shoo it out, but only succeeded in herding it into the small open space between the opened, rolled up door and the ceiling. Then I tried to show the bird how to glide down a few feet so it could get outside, but that only seemed to frighten it more (can you imagine the sight of a 6-4, 200-and-many-pounds man zooming around a garage trying to show a sparrow how to glide? It isn’t pretty).

“Why don’t we just leave for a few minutes,” Anita suggested. “I’m sure he’ll figure it out eventually.”

So we went back into the house, where we continued to hear the ongoing struggle between sparrow and plasterboard. Then suddenly, it was silent. We peeked into the garage, and our uninvited guest was gone.

“See?” Anita said. “I told you he’d figure it out.”

“Yeah,” I said. “But how many bumps on the head did it cost him?”

I’ve thought about that little sparrow through the years, and I’ve decided that birds aren’t much different from people in many respects. Just like that sparrow, we often encounter situations and circumstances that we don’t know how to handle. Because we think we were born to soar ever upward, we don’t even consider the possibility that something good might happen if we stop flapping around and just glide down a little bit. But life has a way of teaching us – one way or another – that there are any number of legitimate directions in which we can travel, including down. Once we figure out that we can make progress without banging our heads against ceilings trying to force our way up, we can usually save ourselves a lot of grief.

Not to mention a few headaches.

— © Joseph Walker

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Look What Love Has Done:  Five-Minute Messages to Lift Your Spirit. 

How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen?  Home Remedies for an Ailing World.

Christmas on Mill Street A Holiday Novel!

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