His Eye Is On The Sparrow
The starlings rose in unison, two hundred wings beating the air at once, sending a deep rhythmic bass through the air and into the heart of Kevin Stanton, as he stood fifty feet beneath them.
Kevin had grown up under the tutelage of his father, who had observed more than 263 avian species before dying alone, in bed, on a forlorn December morning. Kevin had not followed in his Dad’s footsteps, at least in an ornithological sense. But he shared his father’s taste for Budweiser and, as the deep throb of beating wings surrounded him, he brought a fifth can of beer to his lips and toasted the spiraling glory of the feathered acrobats.
Kevin had started engaging life early and smart, but it hadn’t lasted very long before events spiraled out of control. On a brilliant September day, nine year old Kevin had his morning walk to school cut violently short by a speeding car, which was heading into the sun. He had been thrown more than seventy feet and left a piece of his skull on the road.
Being told by his parents not to forget that God saved his life for a special purpose, Kevin waited for something wonderful and special to happen. He faithfully bought lottery tickets and wrote poetry, which he would send to various literary publications. Kevin watched the mail for replies, but they never came. He avidly read the book of Revelation, entertaining his drug buddies with stories of ten-headed creatures, false prophets and the mysterious mark of the beast. It seemed to Kevin that something special was in the cards, and he was sure to be a part of it.
Kevin sat down in the small American Legion Hall, the folding chairs filling up with an eclectic collection of bun-headed women, hippie girls, tired businessmen and young jocks; all ready for some kind of holy roller church service. It was unnerving, to say the least. As the musicians began to play, Kevin looked around the room. David and Lou, his best friends, seemed genuinely interested in the music, but for Kevin nothing connected. He did notice, however, that a few of the girls were really hot.
In time, his parents grew apart. His mother slowly joined her husband in making alcohol the love of their lives. A turbulent time of pot, beer, quaaludes, and acid trips ushered Kevin and his friends through high school and into their twenties. A series of part-time jobs followed, allowing Kevin nothing more than a few necessities, including a run-down apartment on East Washington street. A night auditor position at the Airport Hilton led to a short and lackluster marriage with a hotel maid. It wasn’t long before Kevin’s slurred speech slowed to a crawl, his chronic overdoses of insulin combining with long bouts of uncontrolled drinking.
Kevin kept in touch with David as the years passed by, often discussing the sad state of world affairs and whatever recent catastrophe had befallen him. Their time together changed little when Kevin met his second wife at Wal-Mart. One summer day, he buttonholed David as he left church.
“David, I heard something on the news, on NPR, you might be interested in.”
It seemed to David that Kevin was taking forever to get even a simple sentence out of his mouth. A crooked grin appeared on Kevin’s face. The shuffling gait of his voice concerned David. Something was definitely wrong. It wasn’t just the alcohol, nor was it simply his molasses-like slowness, that revealed the effects of ten thousand drinks.
“But I thought you might, you might be interested. Anyways, I heard this birder say, on NPR, that sometimes tens of thousands of birds, even hundreds of thousands, will come together to roost for the night, swirling just above the ground in gigantic flocks.”
David could see Kevin’s eyes light up, like embers in an ash heap.
“I wish I could see it.” Kevin looked down. His voice was almost inaudible. “I’ve never seen anything really great.”
David could barely make out what he was saying. Kevin looked towards the sky as a solitary bird flew overhead.
“Listen, Kevin, I’ve gotta go.”
David hopped into his Beamer and disappeared, leaving Kevin utterly alone.
Kevin’s only daughter, Rebecca, the child of his first brief marriage, rarely called or visited. Her son, conceived during a brief affair, wouldn’t have recognized Kevin on the street. After his father died, Kevin’s mom quickly succumbed to alcoholic dementia and, within nine months, was in a nursing home. With each and every visit, Kevin endured his mother’s unending questions about his long-lost high school sweetheart.
“When are you going to ask that Kelli to marry you? She’s so sweet. Don’t let her get away, dear. You won’t find another one like her.”
“I know, Mom. I know. I won’t let her get away.”
Kevin had long since given up explaining that Kelli had left him for one of her girlfriends. Instead, for what seemed like the five hundredth time, he turned toward the door and quietly muttered, “Rebecca says, ‘hi’.”
“Rebecca?” was all Kevin heard as he stepped into the hallway.
Kevin sat on the couch and finished the last dregs of his dark red wine. It was his second bottle that morning. Although Mother’s Day had been over for a week, Kevin figured it might be a good time to visit the nursing home. Scooping up a pot of dying flowers he had purchased on Mothers’ Day, Kevin headed towards the door, artfully sidestepping the dog feces that littered his carpet. Gripping the stairwell railing, He made his way, a bit erratically, to his car.
Much of the flotsam of Kevin’s life had gathered in his dingy red minivan. Empty McDonalds sacks littered the floor and bits of burgers and fries salted the entire mess. An oily glove, two cement blocks and one large square of cardboard lay jumbled in the back seat. A layer of dust stuck like glue over every surface. An old pair of jeans, smelling faintly of urine, was wrapped around a moldy T shirt. In the far back, a white cord was wound round and round a frayed black tarp. Kevin’s grey sport coat, its natural color indistinguishable from the dust, lay crumpled beside the tarp.
The farmer found Kevin slumped over the steering wheel, his red minivan in a muddy gravel drive that wound through a soybean field. Before the man could open the door, Kevin looked up. Stepping out into the field, Kevin staggered over to the farmer’s pick-up and began to pee.
“What the hell are you doing, man?”
Kevin turned. “My best friend lives here.”
“I don’t think so. My brother lives here.”
Kevin raised one eyebrow and tried to think. “I’m pretty sure he lives around this S curve, somewhere.”
Kevin had no idea where he was or how he had gotten there. He was sure David’s house was near an S curve, but maybe not this exact one. Kevin’s mind slowly, slowly began to engage. He was pretty sure he had been going to visit his mom, but her nursing home was thirty miles in the opposite direction. Kevin remembered getting up off the couch. Looking through the van window, he could see the remains of his Mother’s Day gift under the sport coat. He noticed that his flowers, sport coat, worn red minivan and even the clothes he was wearing were infused with a dullness that seemed to define everything about him. Nothing in his life had been spectacular, not a single part of his life was beautiful. His stock boy job, small apartment, aging, fragile wife and aloof daughter brought him not an ounce of joy or wonder.
“Hope you find your friend.” The farmer pulled out of the drive and left Kevin alone in the field.
Kevin looked across the field, towards a small orchard where, perhaps, a hundred starlings were roosting. Kevin saw the birds arise in unison and almost immediately felt the bass sound of their wings move past him.
A deep desire for something wonderful and special came over Kevin. He looked towards the sky, watching the birds dart and swoon across the orchard.
“God, give me something special. Just one time do something special for me; just for me.”
Kevin waited for a response. The still summer air gave no hint of anything en route. The buzz of insects going about their daily lives was the only sound he heard.
“Something, LORD; anything.”
Kevin stood by his car; waiting, listening, watching. The sun’s heat radiated from the earth and spread over the field. He began to feel nauseous.
Then he saw it. At first, no more than a few dozen birds in a straggled line snaked in from the west. Then clumps of fifty or sixty starlings, one after another, came to swirl above the tiny orchard at the edge of the field. As Kevin stared at the birds, line after line passed over his head and joined the others circling the orchard.
Kevin focused on a small patch of sky directly above him.
Within fifteen minutes, hundreds of birds had appeared. Kevin watched in awe as they swirled about, joining together to form small dark waves.
“One hundred, two, three, four, five hundred,” he whispered, trying to estimate the number of birds in the air, all funneling into the narrow space above the orchard, thirty feet above Kevin’s head.
Each new wave of starlings was instantly surrounded by hundreds, and then thousands, and then tens of thousands of other birds, each wave joining yet another; growing larger, blacker and denser as the process went on and on. The air was filled with a swirling black mass, an ocean of black waves crashing and careening into each other again and again and again. Hundreds darting up above and then swirling below the throbbing mass of starling bodies. And they kept coming. From the west, south and north, the long bands of birds streamed into the minuscule space above the orchard trees. As the various throngs turned, the air was instantly filled with pulses of air and rhythmic sounds that reverberated within Kevin’s chest. The sky was a storm of a hundred thousand starlings, not one colliding with another, in an area that a teenaged boy could throw a rock across.
Each small, dull, insignificant bird, as common during the day as a blade of grass, swirled in a living dance that charged the earth with beauty, power and grace. Entertaining their creator in abandonment, they swirled and swooped, diving at breakneck speed into the trees only to arise together as one to rejoin the dance, each bird a part of something so powerful and bold as to reveal the very heart of God Himself.
Kevin’s mind began to drift. He saw himself in a world,filled with ordinary people, swirling and flocking together, breaking apart, spinning away from each other only to join others and repeat the process, again and again. He saw, in the roaring tumult of humanity, something awesome and powerful. Billions of people, crashing in waves against one another, without ever actually reaching each other, pulling back to try and unite once more. As the vision swirled around Kevin, he became one of the faceless masses of men and women that made up the dance. Kevin thought he saw a glimpse of something, no someone, familiar; someone he had always known but had never seen, someone for whom his heart yearned without stopping and without knowing why. Throwing up his arms, reaching into the sky, Kevin fell to the ground. His old, desperate, broken heart stopped beating, with only the Father beside him.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father.” Matthew 10:29