Everyone is talking about the small bird that landed on Bernie Sanders’ podium in Portland, Oregon. Some people are saying, “It’s a sign.” A sign that Nature is voting for Bernie Sanders. (Let's face it, of the candidates, only Bernie would try to stop GMOs, fracking, pollution, global warming and save the bees!) Others are being silly, “Put a bird on it!” lighting up the Twitter feed, literally tweeting like birds. Still others are conjuring up animated birds to explain to them that while it landed on Bernie, it was still voting for Trump. Ha, very funny.
But only a few are asking, “What kind of bird was it?” Bernie himself called it – symbolically – a dove, come to tell us “No more war!” That message is wonderful, but I hope he knows it was not a dove. Really, Bernie.
A very informed young woman on my Facebook, concerned about our collective break with rudimentary Nature, said the bird was a female house finch. I thought it was a female house sparrow. But, no matter there. The distinction is moot. The bird was small, female, common, of the house, of the ground not the air, and in my view, represented the very people who champion Bernie Sanders – the workers, the everyday men and women, those who struggle, those who commute, who cannot afford the things they need, who try and try and try and sometimes win, and often fail to make life better for themselves and their families. The small bird, that maybe had learned that crumbs may accompany a water bottle, gave Bernie’s plastic bottle a peck, but mostly sat back on the sign “A Future to Believe In” and gazed right at the man.
The audience seemed to understand a few things about birds. Enough to revel in the odd behavior of this one. Small birds are skittish. They may enter a crowded building because they like to nest in the rafters, they may even fly down occasionally, but they do not get very close to most humans. Small birds do not stick around when things get noisy. The collective uproar from the crowd did not frighten the bird. It sat back – another odd behavior, as most birds remain perched somewhat forward when around people, ready to get going – and stayed looking up at Bernie.
I like to think the bird came to remind us about Nature and what we are doing to it. That we should treasure and protect all life. And, yes, I like to think the little bird is a sign of peace. As well as a symbol of joy in the little things.
I want to read a lot into this bird. I’ve been a believer in birds coming to us as messengers. I’ve experienced such visits, from a mourning dove and from a mockingbird after the death of a friend. One of my closest friends, after the passing of her mother, had several visitations from swans, one of which very deliberately turned to face her and stayed a very long time. My daughter was followed and befriended by a jay, not our large Northeastern blue jay, but a smaller, darker variety from a different part of the country. She’s a painter, and while she painted down by the pond near our house, he came and chirped, flew away, came back with a raspberry, chirped again, danced in front of her. We realized, after seeing him do the same thing in our yard, with our raspberries, that he had gone to our yard, taken a raspberry and gone back to her at the pond to show off. She named him Buddy and he stayed by her side all that summer.
I want to tell you what Bernie was talking about before he saw the bird.
Here is what is on the video that no one has yet mentioned –
"and if he or she does their school work seriously, does well, takes school seriously…" Bird enters.
Right now, in a last gasp campaign, Michelle Obama - who tried to tell us about organic food, but was silenced by the powers that be, began to reach out to children once again by surprise visits to local Washington D.C. schools that had gardens - and by this last ditch effort to help America’s children – “Let Girls Learn!”
When I wrote Holy Days, and in fact, when I LIVED Holy Days, I knew that the only thing we have going for us is education. My character Gloria Wisher loves to learn and that love is her salvation.
Education is all we have. Self-education is what Gloria turns to, as a poor child, she teaches herself – to read, to write, to cook, to sew, to ride a bike, to plant a garden – and further, to study and keep studying.
I think Bernie was about to say what I’ve always said, but hey nobody listens to me. Bernie has the podium and it has a bird on it – the education is there if you are serious, if you pay attention, if you take school seriously.
I always like to say, “No matter what you think of your teacher, no matter how lame or stupid you think he or she is, no matter how dull the lesson, keep learning! Use them up and take all you can from them, and move on to new studies and learn, learn, learn. The resources are all around you." I studied in a broken, abusive home, in a library where the rain dripped on the books and outside where I was stalked and bullied. I was literally beaten by the neighborhood kids every time I got an A. But, I kept on getting A’s.
My mother and I used to watch the sparrows take a sand bath in the twilight sun. The dust turned to sparkling gold, and the birds were ecstatic.
“Look how happy they are!” Mama said.
I learned from sparrows how to be happy with little. In America, being content with little is not considered admirable.
Perhaps, if Bernie makes it to the White House, we will learn a new lesson. Brought to us by a very small bird.
Patricia Goodwin is the author of When Two Women Die, about Marblehead legends and true crime and its sequel, Dreamwater, about the Salem witch trials and the vicious 11-year-old pirate Ned Low. Holy Days is her third novel, about the sexual, psychological seduction of Gloria Wisher and her subsequent transformation.