Thanks for the Birds
by Richard E. Noble
I just returned from a visit to “my hometown”. It was a tough and rugged place to be raised and it hasn’t changed any. It was an emotional ride over the hilly countryside of laughter and tears. Laughing with all of my remaining friends about the good old days and tearing-up over the living conditions and circumstances that some Americans are forced to live under.
Actually, in many ways, conditions are pretty much the same as those that I was reared under. My old friends see the town through their sixty year old eyes as better then and horrid now. But Christmas trees were a lot bigger then and girls a lot prettier than they are today, at least as I remember it.
But certain things definitely are different. The tenements and the streets - the patchwork of potholes and tar, aren’t that much different. But crime has been escalated to the unimaginable. One of my old buddies owns a business down in the “combat” zone. He has roll-up steel doors, no windows, and surveillance cameras that provide a picture of the streets outside so that the patrons inside can keep a watch on their cars while they are eating their pizza or having a beer. My hometown has been voted twice as the stolen car capital of America.
I stayed at my friend’s apartment which was one block up from the street where I spent my first twenty-seven years. All night long the police cruisers race about town screaming their warnings. The emergency vehicles, ambulances, rescue vehicles and fire trucks blast their sirens. Beeps, screams, battle cries and horns blast all through the night. My buddy’s police scanners, at the shop and at home, keep a constant report of where the action is. Not because he is a crime buff but to keep tabs on how close the bad guys are to his home or business, so that he can get out his own personal fire power and/or take protective steps. This is not Beirut, Lebanon or Jerusalem. This is “my old hometown” ... once a part of the industrial capital of not only the good old U.S.A., but the world.
As you might have guessed, I woke up early every morning. I got dressed and went walking down the narrow, dark second floor tenement steps and out onto the street. It was shocking. The sun was shinning, birds were singing, and hundreds of little kids with backpacks were banging about, playing tag and rough-housing on every corner waiting on the school buses. I laughed as I thought about it. The sun up in the sky has no choice - it must shine wherever God commands. The kids are stuck. They can’t choose where they will be born. But the birds could fly someplace else; but they don’t. They were singing their merry songs, just as if they were in an apple orchard or blueberry patch in Paradise. I said to myself as my eyes, moistened and glassed over, ‘Thank God for the birds.” They have guts. The whole morning was ablaze with their music. Even the clattering of the crows sounded sweet. If I had a camera I would have taken a picture of them propped up like clothes pins on the drooping telephone wires, or lining up in the crevices and window sills of the tenements or perching on the rims of the open garbage cans that lined the sidewalks.
The sweetest sound I ever heard.
I thought of them as whispering their little songs of hope into every school child’s ear. And I knew, though I don’t remember it now, that they must have been whispering to me many, many years ago, way back when ... in “my hometown”.