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Becoming the Light
One cool clear morning in late May, a murmur of excitement swept through the forest. It was rumored that Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow’s eggs had hatched at last, to the great delight of their many woodland friends. Birds, chipmunks, squirrels and countless other small creatures flocked to the nest, eager to welcome the cheeping newborns and congratulate the proud parents. It was the first birth in the forest after a long, harsh winter, and the animals were very happy to celebrate once again. There was already a large gathering around the baby birds, and the younger animals began to push and shove one another so that they might catch a glimpse of the newest additions to the forest community.
“This little one has such lovely eyes,” cooed Mrs. Chickadee affectionately, looking at the only female, who was busy tumbling around the nest with her brothers.
“Ah, and what a nicely shaped beak,” Mrs. Cardinal agreed softly.
“And just listen to her sweet little voice! She will sing beautifully one day, just like her mother,” predicted Mrs. Blue Jay as Mrs. Sparrow modestly ducked her head.
“What will you call this angel, Mrs. Sparrow?” inquired Mrs. Bullfinch.
“I’ll call her...Maybell,” she decided with just a slight pause, “because of the wonderful spring month in which she was born, and because her voice will ring like a bell throughout the forest once she is old enough to sing.”
This prompted even more showers of praise and approval from the congregation of excited animals, and Mrs. Sparrow beamed with pride as she thought of all the wonderful things in store for her young Maybell.
As time went on, Maybell matured and developed soft, silky feathers, a kind, caring heart, and of course, the finest singing voice ever to grace the forest with its presence. She spent the majority of her days perched on her favorite branch, trilling out song after song and reflecting on how pleasant life was.
Meanwhile, the very protective Mr. and Mrs. Sparrow sheltered their children from all of the world’s evils, and worried about them constantly. They hated to leave them for even a few minutes, but did so out of necessity every morning to fetch the daily supply of food. It was during one of these excursions that Maybell’s simple world was turned upside down and changed for good.
It all began on a brilliant summer day, during which Maybell was seated happily in her usual position, singing blithely away in a clear, warbling tone. Suddenly, something caught her eye and she stopped, gazing into the distance with a newfound curiosity.
“I wonder what it was that I just saw,” she said to herself, and set off to find out. She hopped along to the edge of the tree, and for the first time, was presented with a full view of the beautiful forest she had called home since birth. After searching for a while, she discovered the strange and wonderful object that had piqued her interest - a twirling butterfly yellow as the sun - and was about to return to the nest when she decided to take just one more look at the magnificent stretch of land ahead of her. She leaned over as far as she could, craning her little neck to see the myriad of natural wonders that lay below.
Without warning, the twig on which she had mistakenly placed all of weight snapped, and she dropped the long way down to the forest floor. She hit the ground dazed and shaken, but not badly injured. Becoming aware of an odd, new and unpleasant sensation in her left wing, she examined it and recoiled upon discovering a sticky, red substance trickling out from the origin of her discomfort. She had encountered pain, something with which she was completely unfamiliar before today.
“Mama!” she called out, “Papa! Come help me!” When no answer came, she did not despair, for she was sure that help would be with her soon, just as it had when she was in need back at the nest. She settled into a pile of fallen leaves, waiting for her rescue.
She must have fallen asleep, because when she awoke, the sun was much lower in the sky and the late afternoon was approaching. Now she began to worry, calling out once again,
“Mama! Papa! Come help me!” Again she was met with no answer, and she fought a rising panic.
“Why, oh why hasn’t anyone come to find me?” she thought, “Isn’t there anyone who will help me?” She received no response except for the eerie creaks coming from the tired old tree.
“I mustn’t give up, “ she said to herself. “Maybe they’ve gone out and all I need to do is go and find them. Yes, that’s just what I’ll do.” With that, she set off on what would become the longest, most terrifying and eventually most wonderful journey of her entire life.
She could fly well enough to travel only short very distances, and so decided to walk rather than risk falling and hurting herself again. She made a very pathetic picture hobbling along the forest, rubbing her throbbing wing, and crying, “Mama! Papa!” every few minutes.
After about an hour of walking, she was beginning to get discouraged again, and sat down to rest for a while. She began to comfort herself with a low, melancholy tune that rose and fell like the whisperings of a gentle wind.
“Excuse me?” came a high, thin voice from the shadows of a cluster of towering fir trees. Maybell turned, and saw a gaunt, haggard-looking mother fox coming towards her.
“Will you help me, please?” the fox begged, “I’ve lost my pups. They’re nowhere to be found. I’ve been searching for days without food or sleep, and there’s no sign of them. I’m terrified for their lives.”
Maybell’s heart went out to the poor vixen, but being so unaccustomed to tragedy of any kind, she was at a loss for what to do.
“I’m sorry,” she said with a pained but determined look, “but I cannot help you. I need to find my mother.” She squared her shoulders and walked off, forcing herself to focus on the way ahead and refrain from looking back at the despairing creature behind her.
She continued on, watching the sun sink lower and lower in the sky, becoming more and more anxious with each step. She tried in vain to forget about her encounter with the fox, but the suffering she had just witnessed haunted her ceaselessly. She went on in silence until her thoughts were interrupted by the pitiful, heart-wrenching sound of a crying kitten.
He was a tiny, black tomcat curled into the smallest of balls amidst a nearby wild rose bush. His soft, incessant mewing was so doleful it could have provoked tears from even the staunchest cat-hater. Upon realizing that he was no longer alone in his misery, he turned to Maybell with a glimmer of hope.
“Will you help me?” he begged with helpless eyes, “I’ve been abandoned by my family and I’m starving. Can you help find some food before I die of hunger?”
“Well..” started Maybell, considering her options. She could come to his aid and risk being separated even longer from her family or she could leave him here to fend for himself. She wrestled with her conscience for a few moments before making a decision.
“I’m sorry,” she eventually said in the same tone with which she had addressed the mother fox, “but I have to find my own family.” She walked quickly away, trying not to think about his mournful face and forlorn crying. As an afterthought, she called back to him, “I’m sure someone else will help you!”
The day was coming to a close, and Maybell was nearing despair. To make matters worse, she continued to stumble upon more of the unpleasantries of life from which she had been so carefully shielded as a young bird. As she trekked through the forest, she was met with a terrified rabbit ensnared in a hunter’s trap, a wolf pup sorrowfully nursing a wounded leg, a foaming, zig-zagging raccoon suffering from rabies, a baby mouse carried off by a voracious eagle… the list seemed to go on forever. Overwhelmed, Maybell kept her distance and ignored the animals imploring her to help. She focused all of her attention on finding her family, convinced that once she was in the warm embrace of her mother again, everything would be all right.
Nearing a stream, she bent down to take a drink, letting the cool water refresh her jumbled thoughts. She was just beginning to collect herself when without warning, she was sailing through the air, and landing on top of a sharp rock with a painful thump!
“Get out of my dam, you insolent, trespassing, no-good little sneak!” shrieked a disgruntled old beaver who had used her tail as the means for launching poor Maybell from her moment of tranquility. “Go on! I don’t want to hear it! I’ll have no rude and intrusive birds wandering about my property! Go on now or I’ll give you another whack!”
Her head spinning, Maybell stood up and took to the air, flying as far and as fast as her wings could take her away from the monstrous creature who had treated her so poorly. It was no surprise that her strength gave out rather quickly, given her size and weakened condition. When she felt that she could go not one more inch, she collapsed under the shelter of an oak tree, and at last, began to cry bitter tears. All of horrible things she had witnessed were shocking and dreadful, but on top of that she had been the victim of another animal’s cruelty, which, she realized, had troubled her most of all.
“With all of the hardship and misery in this world already, why do we add to that by behaving so terribly towards each other?” she exclaimed into the air, breaking into fresh sobs as she thought of the beaver’s scowling face.
“A fair question,” came a soothing voice from above, “And you are certainly not the first to ask it.” Startled, Maybell whirled around to see a large barn owl swooping down from her nearby perch on a thick branch well-hidden from view.
“I’m sorry to have disturbed you,” Maybell apologized, remembering that owls didn’t usually awake until well after the sun had set.
“It’s perfectly all right. I was just getting out of bed,” the owl said tactfully, though it was not quite true. “You look as though you’ve had a rough day,” she continued sympathetically, “Would you like to tell me about it?”
“Well…” Maybell started, and suddenly it all came pouring out. She told her about being separated from her family, about being confronted with all the sorrow and pain she hadn’t even known existed before today, and finally about her first experience with genuine, unadulterated malevolence.
“I’m just in shock, I suppose,” finished Maybell, “And the worst part is, there’s absolutely nothing I can do about any of it. I’m completely helpless!”
“Now that’s not true at all,” said the wise owl gently, “You may not be able to rid our lives of disease and death, but because you are so fortunate as to be in good health, be taken care of by a loving family, and live in general happiness, you hold in your hands the power to alleviate others’ suffering. All you have to do is find a way to create some joy in any way you can, and you will be the light in someone’s dark, lonely world.”
“There may something I can do,” Maybell mused aloud, thinking of the pleasure it brought her family to hear her sing, “with music.”
Nodding, the owl agreed, “Yes, music is one of the most profound ways to make a difference. Where words fail, even the simplest of melodies may succeed. You can touch a heart, make someone forget their troubles even if for a just a short time.”
After that, the two talked for hours, long after the sun had set and the sky was bejeweled with stars. The kindhearted bird even promised to take Maybell home in the morning.
“Of course,” the owl said as the spring peepers and crickets began their evening serenade, “there are other ways in which you can make a difference, but may not yet recognize.”
“Like what?” Maybell questioned doubtfully.
“I’ll show you tomorrow,” the owl said mysteriously, “after you get a good night’s rest and I a good meal. Come, let’s find somewhere suitable for you to sleep.”
Maybell was suddenly very tired and allowed herself to be led up the tree and into a comfortable bed of leaves and sticks.
“Thank you for everything,” she said gratefully to the owl just before dozing off.
“You’re very welcome,” the owl answered, turning to leave for her evening hunt.
“Wait!” called Maybell, “I don’t know your name.”
“It’s Sage,” the owl said, and then flew off into the night.
Despite the memory of a troubling day, Maybell soon fell into a long, deep sleep. Even so, it seemed that she had just closed her eyes when she was awakened by the sound of singing birds and pale sunlight streaming in through the cracks in the leaves. She saw that Sage had returned and was taking a nap in preparation for the day’s journey. The owl stirred and blinked off the hazy film of sleep.
Facing Maybell, she said groggily, “We have a busy day ahead of us. We’ll need an early start if we want you home by sunset.”
After a hurried breakfast of ripe red berries and cool stream water, the two set off. Maybell rode on Sage’s back as she soared majestically through the treetops.
“I have a few stops for us along the way,” she said and did not elaborate. Too busy clutching Sage’s glossy feathers for dear life and praying she would not fall to her doom, Maybell did not press for more information.
They flew in this fashion for a very short time before Sage dipped into a graceful landing near a vaguely familiar part of the stream.
Maybell dismounted and looked around, trying to place where she had seen this particular stretch of the gurgling water. She took in the gathering of toadstool mushrooms, the gnarly stump of a fallen tree, and the carefully built dam surrounding the beaver lodge… why, it was the home of that mean-spirited beaver!
“Sage,” she said accusingly, “Why are we here, of all places? I thought we were going home!”
“Yesterday, you learned a lot about the world you live in, my young friend,” Sage responded, “But there’s still more you’ve yet to understand, and there’s no time like the present for me to help you along your way. Before I take you back to your family, I intend to show you the joys of helping others, of being a servant to those in need.”
Gesturing toward the beaver lodge, she continued, “This is where you told me you first encountered raw unkindness, and this is where we’re going to start. What you don’t know about this beaver is that she has recently suffered a great loss - she was widowed just last month. While she lashed out at you yesterday without clear cause, her behavior actually stemmed from the pain of losing a loved one. More often than not, the one who treats you poorly deserves not your vengeance or contempt, but your pity, for more often than not, they are the ones who know true heartache.”
“I… I don’t know what to say,” stammered Maybell, “What are we going to do?”
“We’re going to bring some light into her life,” said Sage, “by paying her a much-needed visit.”
The two walked up to the beaver lodge, and Maybell timidly called, “Hello? Mrs. Beaver? May we come in?”
Crotchety Mrs. Beaver came waddling to the entranceway, and peering outside, snapped, “No visitors allowed! Can’t you see I’m in the middle of an afternoon nap?”
“We are very sorry to interrupt you, Mrs. Beaver,” Sage said smoothly, “but we’d like to pay you a visit. Would you mind if we came in?”
Softened by Sage’s gentle tone and kind words, Mrs. Beaver c***ed her head, thinking, and said, “All right, I suppose.”
Though slightly awkward in the beginning, the visit turned out to be just what was needed to melt Mrs. Beaver’s icy heart. She served them rosewood tea, regaled them with stories of her late husband, and apologized profusely for her conduct the previous day.
“It’s just been so hard without Arthur,” she sighed, tearing up a little. She paused, then brightened, saying, “It was so nice of you to come. I’ve really been lonely these past few weeks.”
“It was our pleasure, Mrs. Beaver,” said Maybell, telling the truth.
Maybell and Sage left Mrs. Beaver’s feeling satisfied with the good they had done.
“Where to next?” asked Maybell as they took off into the air.
“You’ll see,” said Sage.
They spent the rest of the day as angels of the forest, reaching out to all of the animals Maybell had passed by. They found Mrs. Fox’s pups after only a few hours of diligent searching, helped the black tomcat track down his missing family and gather some berries to soothe his hunger, set the little jackrabbit free from the trap, carefully brought the raccoon to a comfortable den where he could find peace during his last days in the woods, and persuaded the eagle to let his tiny prey go home to his family.
When all of this was completed, Maybell and Sage rested in the shade of a nearby blackberry bush.
“How do you feel?” asked Sage.
“Incredible,” answered Maybell, “It’s as if… for the first time, I really understand how to live.”
“Well, I believe we have one service left unfinished,” said Sage, “This one is for your family: bringing you home!”
Maybell cheered, and they were off. From her perch atop Sage, Maybell could navigate the forest much more clearly, and was easily able to pick out her family tree once they reached her neighborhood.
“We’re here! We’re really here!” she cried joyfully.
As they glided onto a branch, Maybell saw a glorious sight: her mother, father and all of her brothers lined up by the nest, tears streaming down their faces in grateful gladness. They thanked Sage profusely, and after she had gone, enveloped Maybell in a long, happy embrace.
Later, Maybell sat alone with her mother and told her all that she had experienced in the woods.
“Oh, Maybell,” her mother said when she was done, “I’m so sorry. How could I let this happen to you? All I wanted was for you to be safe and happy, and I… I failed.”
“No, Mother,” Maybell said comfortingly, “As painful as some of it was, I needed to discover the real world and all that it entails - both the beautiful and the ugly. For you see, I’ve emerged from this journey a changed bird. I’ve learned that while many have been stuck with the unfortunate fate of being sick, or hurt, or suffering in some way, fortune has smiled upon me and I have been blessed with happiness and comfort. Therefore, I have taken it upon myself to bring whatever joy I can to those who need it most, and in the process, become the light in their darkness.”
“What wisdom you have acquired in such a short time, my Maybell,” her mother said softly, “I couldn’t be prouder.”
Maybell spent the rest of her days devoted to her mission of bringing goodness and joy to the forsaken creatures of the forest. When her exquisite voice was not dazzling them with the liveliest of tunes or gentlest of lullabies from her perch in the treetops, she would be found at the side of the most desolate. She was loved, she was needed, and most of all, she was truly happy at last.