The Pearl, Part VI
It was Thanksgiving Day. Sally,
William, and Freddy spent the day together. They invited Oliver
too, because he had been such a great help to them that year.
Oliver thanked them, but said that he never went out in the daytime and
besides, he said, he was really too old now to fly such a long way out over
the ocean. He would think of them, he said, perched on his beam
at the barn. Oliver had taken a little time to explain
Thanksgiving Day to Sally and today she shared what he had told her.
She told William and Freddy how, long ago, some human beings had
come to these same seas where they were now floating so peacefully.
They had come in ships that were quite small, on a stormy day late in
the year just like today. There were no bell buoys then to guide
them and keep them safe, but they had found their way somehow past the
dangerous rocks and reached the land, not too very far from Providence
city. Except, of course, there was no city there then. There
were only trees; many, many trees, and there were lots of rocks, too.
Oliver told Sally that there were birds and fish then, many of
them, just like Sally and Freddy, but that was about all there was.
The human beings landed their ships and made a fire on the
shore. Then, they sat shivering with cold, wondering what to do
Sally, William, and Freddy had learned enough about human beings by now
to understand how hard it must have been for these helpless creatures,
who couldn't fly or swim, or carry heavy things, or even sing very
well, to be happy in such a cold, lonely place. Oliver had
surprised Sally even more when he told her that back then the humans
didn't even have stacks of green paper or big bags of shiny things to
exchange with each other. It was hard to imagine. Needless
to say, there were no street cars or houses or pianos, or piano
teachers either. There were little girls like Miranda and boys
too, and their mothers and fathers, but that was all; rocks and trees,
and birds and fish, and a shivering bunch of human beings huddled
around a fire, listening to the ocean crashing against the seashore.
We won't tell the whole story of Thanksgiving now. Sally did
tell it to William and Freddy, but they had all day to listen.
Besides, perhaps you know it already and it's close to your bedtime,
so we'll skip ahead.
The human beings did manage somehow to survive. The birds and
fish helped them and some other humans who already lived there helped
them, too. A year after they first came, they were doing better.
They had built some small houses to live in and learned how to
grow some of the food they needed. They were a little happier
now and decided to have a party. They called their party
'Thanksgiving', and made it a special day they would celebrate each
year to 'give thanks'.
Perhaps one of the hardest things that Oliver told Sally, or to explain
to William and Freddy, was the idea of a special day on which to be
grateful for all the good things that come so easily to birds and fish.
How could the humans not remember to be grateful every minute of
every day? Was it because they worked so hard? Was it
because they were mostly thinking about collecting stacks of green
paper? Sally didn't know. Sally, William, and Freddy knew
that all the good things they needed were always there for them without
'working' or thinking about it. For them to be 'thankful' was
just what it meant to be alive. They knew that all good things
are a 'gift' and they didn't have to worry or even think where the
'gifts' came from.
Sally finished her story that day by explaining the hardest thing of
all. She called it 'prayer'. One night, when she and
Oliver had visited Miranda and her father, they had flown high up in
the tree outside Miranda's window when she went upstairs to her bed.
Sally had seen something very strange. The little girl was
kneeling beside her bed. Her head was bent down and her hands
were folded together. She was speaking. She seemed to be
talking with someone, but no one else was in the room with her.
Sally couldn't hear what she was saying because the window was closed,
but Oliver explained to her that this was called 'prayer'. Sally did
tell William and Freddy about prayer that Thanksgiving day, but she had
to admit she didn't understand it very well. What Oliver had
told her was this:
"Because they are so helpless, the human beings have many troubles they
don't know what to do about. They call these troubles,
'problems'. Unlike you and me, when the human beings have a
problem, they spend a lot of time 'worrying' about it." Sally
was still trying to understand what a 'problem' could be. "What's
worrying," she asked? Oliver just smiled. "That's almost
impossible to explain to a bird," he said. "It means they are
thinking about their problem." Now Sally was completely puzzled.
What could 'thinking about a problem' be? Now Oliver
laughed out loud. "Birds don't think about problems," he said.
"When birds need something, they always know just what to do, and
then they do it. When the human beings have a problem, some kind of
trouble, sometimes they just sit still for a very long time and don't
do anything. They call that 'thinking'. It sounds silly,
doesn't it? Birds don't worry or think very much. We don't even sit still very long unless we're resting or sleeping, but the human beings are not like us, are they?"
By this time Sally's little head was spinning around and around.
She was quite sure now that she didn't understand the human beings at
all, but she was trying very hard. She sat still. She
wondered if maybe she was doing some of this 'thinking' herself, just
to figure out what Oliver was saying.
Then she remembered about prayer. "But what's prayer, Oliver?",
she asked. Oliver waited a while before speaking. "Prayer,"
he said, "is asking for help. That part is easy to explain. When
you or I need help, we ask a friend, just the way you did when you
wanted to know about the lady in the shop with
the beautiful plumage. Sally understood that. She also
realized that ever since that day when she had begun to wonder about
the humans and their strange ways, she had been doing a lot of
'thinking'. Maybe that's what thinking means. Just
sitting still and wondering about things you don't understand.
Oliver said yes, that is thinking. "But what about 'prayer'?"
Oliver continued, "Prayer is a special way the humans beings have
of asking for help. Instead of asking a friend, they kneel down
just like Miranda did and talk to someone they call 'God'. This
God is someone who is a little bit like them, only much bigger and
stronger. He lives far away, high up in the sky, and they can't
see him. The human beings believe that somehow it is this
far-away person who gives them all the 'gifts' they are thankful
for on Thanksgiving Day. So, when they want something special
that they can't exchange for green paper, they kneel down and talk to
Oliver paused. He looked at Sally. She looked at him.
Oliver had stopped talking and Sally had stopped thinking.
They just looked at each other and didn't say one more word.
After a few minutes, Sally said, "Okay. Okay, Oliver.
Thank you very much." Then she gave him a little peck on his
beak and flew away.
As Sally flew, she felt the wind under her wings, holding her up in the
sky. She felt the sun shining on her back, helping her stay warm.
She flew out over the ocean and saw the waves, rolling and
surging far below, with all the millions of fishes and whales and
porpoises and oysters and crabs and lobsters, swimming below them.
For the first time in many months Sally remembered she was a
bird. She felt strange. She felt very glad to be a bird,
and only a bird. What had she been thinking of? She had
been thinking, of course, of the human beings and their peculiar ways,
which she didn't understand. But mostly she had been thinking of
Miranda and the beautiful sounds she made with her piano, sounds that
had floated up through the chimney, high into the night sky.
Now, for the first time in many weeks, Sally let all her thinking slip
away. She felt only the wind and the sun and she longed to be
home again, sitting on William's rigging and rocking on the waves.
Sally arrived back at the bell buoy just at night fall. William
and Freddy were very happy to see her, but they didn't talk much.
Everyone went to sleep early and rested.
The next day was stormy and rainy and very dark. The wind howled
too loudly for anyone to speak. Sally clung to William's mast as
tightly as she could while he pitched up and down in the big swells.
Freddy stayed below in the oyster bed, hiding from the storm.
It wasn't until evening that the weather finally calmed down.
The thick clouds still hung low over the sea, but the rain had
stopped and just at the horizon a bright silver line appeared where the
setting sun shone through, casting a lovely glow across the water.