After the funeral of her 12-year-old son, Shane, who was killed in a skiing accident, Melody returned to her home in Minnesota, broken in a way she had never been broken before. For weeks, months, she went through the motions of life. But her heart and soul weren’t present.
One evening, Melody was idly flicking the TV remote control when she suddenly stopped at a special about birds. The little bird they featured was scraggly and had lost most of his feathers, but she was taken by his sweet, intelligent personality. Melody thought, “I want a bird.”
Melody went to the pet store the next day and looked at the parrots. “If you’re going to get a parrot,” the shop-owner told her, “get an African Gray.” He went on to praise this breed of parrot – vocabulary of hundreds of words and bonded with their owners.
“Look at this,” he said, pointing to an article in a bird magazine. It detailed how one African Gray, when left at the vet’s, turned to its owner and said, “Please don’t leave me.” That’s when Melody knew she wanted one.
Soon, Melody’s African Gray arrived, her name was Max. She was gray, the size of a pigeon, with red tail feathers. She looked at Melody and said, “Well?”
But after a few months, Max got sick. Melody was terrified Max was going to die. Already Max had brought so much joy into her life. From the start Max imitated her laugh, and she was surprised how much she was laughing.
When Melody took Max to the vet, the doctor assured her Max would be fine and asked her how she handled the bird. “Carefully,” Melody said. If she picked Max up, she wore oven mitts. It took hours to get Max back in her cage.
“It’s not the bird I’m worried about,” the doctor said. “It’s you. That bird is dominating you. She knows you’re scared of her. You’ve got to take charge.”
“But from what I read, this bird has 300 pounds of pressure in her beak.”
The vet said yes.
“So in one sweep, she could take my finger off. Is that right?”
The vet said yes.
“And you want me to stand up to her?”
The vet said yes again.
That night, Melody took Max home. She went to her bedroom and watched two videos she had watched over and over the past two years.
The first was the basketball game she attended with Shane the morning of his accident. The second was a video of Shane’s funeral. Shane looked so vital and full of life in the basketball game. The funeral clip was ended with hundreds of balloons soaring up into the sky. They went from a basketball game to a funeral in a matter of days. Melody then wondered if life was like the bird.
You might know full well what it could do to you. But sometimes you’ve got to square your shoulders, get in its face and stand up to it anyway.
She walked over to Max’s cage, opened the door and stuck her hand in. Max climbed on and looked at her.
“Hello,” Max said.