It’s late August. For those of us with backyard bird feeders this is the “slow” time of the year. There’s an abundance of food in the fields so most birds are out in the rural areas taking advantage of the summer bounty. We won’t see most of the local species again until the first frost hits or the food supply is gobbled up – whichever comes first. There’s nothing wrong with that – it gives us time to clean out the feeders and get ready for those cold, wintry days that are on the horizon when more birds than we can count will be back, scavenging for the nuts and seeds we’ve safely placed within their grasp.
I can sit out on the deck for an entire afternoon this time of year and only see sparrows: House Sparrows, Chipping Sparrows, or Field Sparrows, it really doesn’t matter – one brown bird looks pretty much like every other brown bird. Whether there is a trace of rust or a stripe of white really doesn’t matter when all you can see is a plethora of ordinary brown birds at your feeders and in your birdbath.
I have a rather large flock of mixed sparrows living in the brush pile on the other side of my neighbor’s fence. They make the migration between the chain links several times a day, eating everything they can get their little bird beaks on and clamoring for space in the birdbath. So, when I look up and there is a bright yellow male goldfinch swooping down to take his turn at the feeder – well, my heart starts to skip a beat. To see that bright yellow bird with his black top hat sitting among those ordinary brown birds in my backyard when there is so much food for them available in the fields (and away from the neighborhood cats) I consider it a special treat. As I watched one come to my feeders yesterday I began to think about the fact that their evolutionary path has taken them to a place where every female goldfinch can easily spot them – but so can all their predators. They have a bounty on their heads and I’m pretty sure they know it as they are more easily spooked than most of the other birds that frequent my backyard. But you know what? Seeing that bright yellow male goldfinch sing his heart out among all those ordinary dime-a-dozen sparrows made me realize how backwards we have it in our society.
From school age on, we clamor towards those people who mirror ourselves back to us. (Heck, even as infants we are born looking like our parents and siblings.) We make friends with people that are our height, weight, and skin color. Later, we will migrate towards people who share our same religious, political, and world views. We spend our entire lives trying to fit in – to be like everyone else – and what does it get us? We become another plain brown sparrow, happy to be part of the flock and thrilled that we no longer draw too much attention to ourselves.
I can’t help but wonder: is that really who we were created to be?
Every single human who has ever lived has had their own unique set of DNA (with the exception of identical twins that start from a single fertilized egg). Funny thing, though, even twins don’t have the same set of fingerprints – even at birth. So we come into this world different from everyone else and then we spend a lifetime trying our best to become like everyone else – to fit in among the other sparrows. Why? Why would we do that? Why would we try so hard to be a sparrow when we were built to be a goldfinch – a masterpiece of form and color?
Of course, the answer is easy: we do it for acceptance.
But think about what happens when someone new and different comes on the scene – an artist that creates something in a way that nobody has ever done it before – or a singer who makes their entrance onto the stage with a voice like no one else’s. What happens then?
Then we turn and run towards them – and we leave our own special identities behind again, now taking on bits and pieces of their identities. We want to sing like them, dress like them, drive the car they drive, eat the food they eat, and live where they live. I’ve seen it a thousand times in the photography world, too. One person thinks outside the box and creates a new type of photograph. Next thing you know, we all want to know how they did it and how we can do it, too. A year later, there we all are, doing the same photo in the same way as that first person until it gets to the point where that style of photograph (or that creative process) has become the latest sparrow at the birdbath. It’s now brown and ordinary and nobody gives it a second thought.
So be who you really are and make art that’s only yours. Seek out those who are different in the same way you are different (if you have to), all the while maintaining your own identity. Stop lusting after who someone else is or how someone else makes you feel about yourself and just. be. you.
And for those of us that are sure we’d be famous, too, if only we could learn to sing like them/live like them/do “art” like them…think again.
You’ll never be a goldfinch if you keep flying with the sparrows.