ESSAY

Week 4

My BFF, Jack

by John, CLF member incarcerated in Oklahoma

Jack and I met accidentally: He flew into the open hand at the end of my out-stretched left arm. You see, Jack is an adult male house sparrow who had been trapped in the dayroom of my residential living unit. It’s unclear how he came to be inside the dayroom, but it was abundantly clear that he wanted back outside because he kept smashing into the floor-to-ceiling windows that covered parts of two sides of the room.

While Jack flew from window to window, I silently sent him messages to come to me—where he’d be safe and I could take him back outdoors. In my mind’s eye, I saw him receiving my ESP messages, flying over, and landing on my shoulder, after which we would triumphantly march out of the room. That didn’t happen.

What did happen is this: One of the residents tossed an empty laundry bag at him, hoping to entangle him long enough to be captured and released. Instead, it caused him to fly diagonally across the room toward a small window where another resident attempted to grab him. Jack escaped that attempted capture and flew off at a different angle—this time toward me—and I reached out and plucked him from the air. (Later, yet another resident would liken it to a Yankee center-fielder snagging a line drive.)

I carried Jack outside in my cupped hands. While walking I put my lips next to my hands and whispered to him. Later, someone asked me if I was kissing the bird. My first answer was, “No.” But after thinking about it, maybe I was. I whispered the Buddhist mantra om mani padme hum to him, so although I didn’t give him a physical kiss, I did give him a spiritual one.

Much to my surprise, he did not immediately fly off when I uncupped my hands. Instead, he just sat on my palm, hunkered down, breathing heavily. I walked across the courtyard to a bench bathed in bright sunlight and sat down. He remained squatted on my palm for several minutes with his left eye staring up at me all the while. Was he staring because he wanted to remember my face in case we met again? Or, was he, like me, just totally in awe at the wonder of this unusual being-to-being encounter?

I’ll never know. But I do know he was safe and unharmed and that’s what mattered. After those few minutes of bonding, my new BFF—best feathered friend— fluttered down to the ground, looked around, glanced back at me, and then flew off to join his buddies.