And the Three Morals We Should Learn from His Story
It was around three in the morning when I arrived at Marine Corps boot camp on Paris Island, South Carolina. I was herded off the bus and told to stand – in the rain — with about sixty other recruits as a drill instructor told us this story:
There once was a little sparrow. It was his first year in this world, and he was filled with the love of life and for all his fellow animals. He was friendly to everyone and just wanted to be free and live in harmony with all the other animals. And he had spent all summer doing just that: playing in the warm sun, exploring everything the world had to offer and making friends everywhere he went. But now the long summer was drawing to a close. The onset of the coming winter was growing near and all the older sparrows and their young were making plans to head south for the summer.
But the little sparrow was convinced that winter couldn’t possibly be as bad as the old sparrows said. He heard their warnings, but he thought they were just stuck in the past: worried about troubles that they only knew from warnings handed down by ancient sparrows long since gone. The little sparrow refused to believe that winter makes every animal equal – equal in the struggle just to scratch out enough food to live. There had been plenty to eat all summer long, and now that fall was here, there was even more to eat. In fact, the little sparrow realized all the animals were getting fat. No, the old sparrows had to be wrong; there was no way that winter could possibly be bad enough that all animals would starve.
The old sparrows told him that winter makes all animals equal – equal in their struggle just to survive. They also told him it would be impossible to get out of the weather or stay warm, but the little sparrow just knew they were wrong. There were all the trees with their full cover of leaves. Even if they were starting to turn colors, he could always take shelter under the cover of the trees’ leaves. Then the little sparrow looked at modern technology and he saw bird feeders and bird houses everywhere. Certainly technology would provide food and shelter for him. No, the old sparrows were just stuck in the past. Winter was not as bad as they made it out to be, and flying south for the winter was too much work just to avoid something that would never happen. The little sparrow decided he was staying for the winter. By spring, he would have the run of the place and would be sure to rub it in when everyone got back.
All the other sparrows tried to convince him that he was young and didn’t understand what he was doing, but the little sparrow refused to listen. He just kept telling the other sparrows they were stuck in the past and afraid of something that was no longer a threat. Staying for the winter was an idea whose time had come and he was going to prove it. He was going to be the first to make it work. Eventually, the other sparrows gave up and started to fly south, to warmth and safety. The little sparrow just smiled to himself and waved them good-bye.
For several weeks, the little sparrow lived in luxury. All of the bird houses were empty, so he slept wherever he wanted. He even got to try out the fanciest houses around; the ones that had made him envious earlier that summer. Still, the air was starting to get chillier and there were far fewer leave son the trees now. Where there were leaves, they had lost their bright colors. Now they were all brown, but food was everywhere. All the feeders were still full and there weren’t so many birds that he had to fight to eat his fill anymore. Then again, he had noticed the levels in the clear feed holders were starting to get a little low and they were not being filled anymore. There was also less food in the woods and especially in the fields.
Then the first frost came and the little sparrow started to worry. This was as cold as he had ever been, and there was no one to snuggle up to help each other keep warm. He shivered all through the night. The next morning, the bird bath was different. He could see what looked like water, but it was hard and he couldn’t drink from or bath in it. So he went to the nearest feeder and it was empty. A little worried, he flew to the next feeder, and the next. Finally, he found one that still had feed and, excited, he landed to eat only to find the seed was stuck together, very cold and rock hard. He could barely eat it and, when he did, it gave him a shiver from the inside out. Then, later that day, as the sun started to set, it got even colder and the sky started to fall in little white flakes. The little sparrow headed for the closest bird house and spent the night shivering violently.
The next morning, it was so cold it hurt. The wind was howling and blowing and the air was filled with white flakes that stung when they hit him and then turned to water. After a while, they stopped stinging, but they also stopped turning to water when they hit him. Suddenly it hit him: the old sparrows had been right after all! If this was winter, he would never survive until spring – especially if it got any worse. Te little sparrow knew what he had to do. He had to fly south to find the other sparrows. So, as cold and stormy as it was, the little sparrow set out to fly south.
But the sparrow didn’t fly far before he started going numb and his wings began to frost. He was scared. Things were cold and black and getting worse. Eventually, his wings froze and he couldn’t flap them anymore. He fell out of the sky. When he hit the ground, the little sparrow realized he had landed in a cow pasture, under the rear end of a cow. Looking up, just as he was about to pass out from the cold, he saw the cow do its business right over him. The last thought that went through the little sparrow’s mind before everything went black was that he wasn’t only going to die, but he was going to die under a pile of cow poop. How unjust was life?
The little sparrow woke up slowly. Everything was black, but he was warm now. He tried to move and found his wings worked again. He whipped his eyes and realized he was still in the cow pie, but he wasn’t angry anymore. In fact, even though he stank, he was feeling pretty good. In fact, he was so happy to be alive, he started to sing.
At this point, hearing a strange noise, the farmer’s cat came out of the barn to investigate. The cat found the little sparrow sitting in the cow pie, singing. Being a cat, the cat did what cats do. It scooped away the cow poop and ate the sparrow. Then the cat went back to the barn.
Right after he told us this story, the drill instructor in charge of processing new arrivals told us there are three morals we should learn from this story:
1 – He who poops on you is not always your enemy.
2 – He who removes the poop is not always your friend.
3 – When you are over your head in poop, keep your darn mouth closed.
It’s been years since I heard this little story, but I’ve never forgotten it – or those three morals. But, now that I’m older, I realized he left out the most important moral we should get from this story. I now add the 4th and most important moral of the story about the little sparrow:
4 – Never ignore warnings from survivors!