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Symphony for a Hungry Old Man – A Thanksgiving Story

Are you going to be a cardinal or a blue jay?

Every year at Thanksgiving I share this story. I hope you will enjoy it.

The blue jay and the cardinal made their livings in the park at the outskirts of the old village. Every day, they sat in the low branches of the maple tree, near the wooden bridge where a small stream twisted back upon itself, gurgling over rocks that God had planted before memory to teach the stream patience.

The morning sun transformed the little brook’s mirrored surface into a dance floor for angels, their wings all a-shimmer as they pirouetted across the liquid crystal ripples.

Summer days, people sat on the banks watching the angels dance and listening to the lullaby of the brook cascading over the rocks – and to the symphony of the birds. The blue jay and the cardinal made a comfortable living serenading the picnickers, who shared crusts from their meat pies; the young lovers, who tossed bits of bread and cheese; the rangers, who always had delicious seeds and bits of dried fruit; and the old man, who feasted them with chunks of the heavy black bread he made in his own oven.

Life was good for the birds, plump and content up on their branch. It was beyond their comprehension that upheavals in the world outside this little haven could someday impinge upon them. So they were slow to notice the changes when they occurred. How the picnickers stopped bringing pies, then stopped coming altogether. How the young lovers walked briskly, heads down and hands in pockets, without stopping to gaze at the brook or listen to the birds.

How more often than not, instead of bringing fruits to share, the rangers came foraging themselves, digging up roots and dropping them into the limp satchels at their sides. How thin the old man had become, and how his meager bread had lost the taste and the texture of the old days. The blue jay and the cardinal could now be seen with the ordinary birds, picking through the dead grass of the meadow and chasing bugs in the tree branches.

“What have I done to deserve this hunger,” the blue jay squawked. “I sing as beautifully as ever, but they don’t appreciate me anymore.” His trills no longer drifted down from the tree branches; when the old man sat on his bench, the jay just screeched at him, vainly demanding food.

But every afternoon the cardinal took his place on the branch. He was scrawny now, and his once regal plumage showed scars from the daily struggle for food. And when he puffed his chest and cocked his head, he regained his ancient majesty. He filled the old man’s ears with the symphony of his heart. For that brief eternity, the hungry little bird and the hungry old man danced with the angels across the stream, floating beyond time and care.

Happy Thanksgiving from the Crew at Values Coach!

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