■ Knowing that patience can lead to success
■ The joy of succeeding
■ Helping another change
For as long as Chad could remember, ever since he was a little boy, magpies had landed on the railing of the balcony of his house. Maybe it was because his mom and dad often put out scraps of their leftover food for the magpies to eat.
When Chad was really little, he'd been frightened of the magpies . . . and the magpies were frightened of him. When the birds came near, he got scared they might peck him and so pulled away quickly. When he moved quickly, the magpies moved quickly, too. Both were frightened and so both kept away from each other.
I don't think there was any great turning point when Chad suddenly stopped being afraid of the magpies or the magpies stopped being afraid of Chad. Maybe they just started getting used to each other a bit more. As they did, Mom would hold Chad's hand out with a piece of food, protecting it from a wayward peck. Chad was surprised by how gently the birds took it—something he wouldn't have learned if he had allowed his fear to dominate. Discovering this, he felt a little more confident to hold out a bit of meat by himself, and the magpies seemed a little more confident to come and take it, gently. That big, pointy beak wasn't used to harm him, as he had feared. As his mom explained, their beak was like his fingers and mouth wrapped up in one. They used it to pluck the food gently from between his fingers just like he might use his fingers to lift something fragile. I am not sure he would have believed it ifanyone had told him that the magpies wouldn't hurt. Like with a lot ofthings in life, it was something he needed to discover for himself.
As he went on feeding the magpies, he learned things about them . . . and things about himself. At first, he thought magpies were magpies. He hadn't learned to stop and notice the differences between them. Perhaps his fear had limited what he saw. When he began to take notice, some things became obvious. He learned to pick out the adult males, who were distinctly black and white in their colors. They were bigger than the females, whose backs were flecked with black-and-white patterns. The young ones were gray and noisy, squawking constantly until food was poked down their throats, and then they seemed to stop their noisy squawking only long enough to swallow the food before they started to demand more. Chad thought to himself that he wouldn't want to be a magpie mom.
It was usually the biggest and oldest male that came in to feed first. Chad could recognize him because he had a bent leg with a knobby lump on it. Mom said she thought he might have broken it. Because of that, Chad called him Pegleg.
One day Chad said to his mom, "I bet I could get Pegleg to stand on my hand and eat."
"I bet you can't," his mom laughed, "You haven't got the patience."
Chad was determined and, when his mom said that about his patience, he was even more determined. Each day afterward he would feed Pegleg, holding the meat in his right hand and keeping his left hand, palm down, between the meat and the bird. At first, Pegleg would either hop over his left hand or fly around to the other side of the balcony railing, avoiding Chad's hand. It wasn't going to be as easy as Chad had thought, but he wasn't going to give up.
He began to look away while he held out the food. This was because of something else he noticed in watching the magpies. The younger magpies didn't seem to like you looking at them while they were coming to get the food. He tested it out: Stare them in the eyes and they keep their distance; turn your head away they pluck the food from your fingers. It is interesting what you notice when you take the time to be patient, and Chad was being very, very patient, more than his mother thought that he could be.
Riding his bike to and from school he would think about how he might tempt Pegleg to eat from his hand that night. Maybe the hand had been too close to his face. He realized that, if he put himself in the place of a magpie, the face is the danger zone. That is where their beak is, that is what they attack with. If another bird attacked them, it would come from the face. Perhaps Pegleg would feel safer farther from Chad's face, like on his foot.
Chad sat in a chair and put his feet up onto the verandah railings, his legs stretched out as far as he could make them. He held the meat out at full arm's length and looked away. He wanted to watch and had to discipline himself not to. It sure took patience, and several times Chad thought of giving up. It was several days before it happened. Pegleg hopped onto Chad's ankle, stretched his beak out as far as he possibly could, and plucked the bit of meat from Chad's fingers. Chad sat with his leg and arm as still as if they had been frozen. In fact, about his only movement was his breathing. Day by day he inched his hand closer toward his body, and day by day Pegleg came just a little closer.
Pegleg isn't a slow learner, thought Chad. He's just scared. He has to learn to trust me. I need to go slow and let him build up his confidence.
Chad put his left hand on his thigh while he fed Pegleg with his right. As Pegleg got used to the left hand being there, it was only a matter of days before he was standing on the back of Chad's hand. The next step was difficult, but Chad took it slowly and patiently. With Pegleg standing on his hand, Chad tried to lift it, ever so gently, off his thigh, but immediately Pegleg hopped off. Chad wondered if he would ever get past that spot but, sure enough, in time Pegleg would stay on Chad's hand just a few inches above his thigh.
There were many more weeks and many more patient steps before Chad walked out onto the back lawn one day, holding his left hand in the air and some meat in his right. Pegleg swooped down from a tree, landing right on Chad's outstretched hand. Can you image how it must have felt for Chad? It must be hard to know you have to stand as still as a statue when you want to jump over the moon. Chad couldn't even yell for Mom to come and have a look. He didn't want to frighten Peg-leg after all the time they had taken to trust each other. He had to discover what it was like to be excited and be still at the same time, what it was like to enjoy the moment.
Of course, Chad's mom and dad both got to see, though they didn't quite believe what they saw at first. Sometimes I still wonder who got to learn more. Was it Chad's parents, Pegleg, or Chad?
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