by Joseph McKinney Jr.
February 28, 2011 was a tragic day for the McKinney family: Patrick, our friend and companion of four years, died. He was our pet cockatiel. A cockatiel can live up to twenty-five years, but Patrick’s life was cut short when he got stepped on.
On the day, intense grief cut short my breath, like a stone weighed on my sternum, blocking the air. The kids were devastated, and I couldn`t talk to anybody without my eyes tearing up.
I was embarrassed – I had to cancel the visits and Bible study I had lined up that day. I had comforted that very week three people, one who lost a father, and two who lost mothers, and here I was all torn up over a stupid bird. I was ashamed.
But then again, he wasn`t just a stupid bird. Patrick woke up every morning whistling the Brazilian national anthem.
In his own way, he ruled the house, using his cage only for meals or to sleep. He was a bird free to come and go as he pleased – you`d think he would want to escape, not Patrick – he loved us too much, especially the kids; he had to be around them all the time. When he heard them wake in the morning, he would sound off loud ear-piercing whistles (his way of screaming for attention) until one of them came to give him a good morning. When the kids were at school he would be as quiet as a mouse, but when he recognized the sound of the car bringing them home – he would start screaming again until he got the attention he wanted.
We thought Patrick was indestructible – we lost count of how many time he got stepped on, sat on, or run over, but the dangers didn`t scare him: he was the happiest when he was among the feet of a group of playing children. Almost daily he would engage in a strange ritual: singing to Lucas’ feet.
His favorite place in the world – sitting on someone`s shoulder. For him it was like being king of the mountain, a position he fought for, pecking hard anyone who tried to displace him.
When Edda scolded him for chewing up ferns, he knew he was in trouble, looking just like kid, hanging his head and trying to hide behind something.
He was part of our family, filling our house with song, but now it is silent. A sense of the purposeless fragility of life slapped me in the face; Lydia buried herself inside her self; Samuel cried constantly for two or three days and is writing Patrick`s name all over his notebooks; Lucas kept saying over and over, “I want to have Patrick back.”
Is it presumptuous to look for purpose in the life and death of a bird? Is Patrick teaching my kids a valuable life lesson on how to deal with loss and longing? Or could God have had a even deeper mission for our little bird? Twelve days after Patrick, Samuel said, “Dad, I want to be baptized.” I was driving and a flood of emotion rushed over me. I avoided a wreck and, after a moment, managed a calm question, “Samuel, why do you want to be baptized?”
“Well, I`ve thought about it for a long time, but didn`t feel I was ready. But when Patrick died, it made me think that I need to get ready.”
I told him that we would study to prepare for this decision, the most important of his life. A huge smile, one I hadn`t seen for days, lit up his face. On Sunday, in front of the whole congregation, we announced that Samuel was studying to be baptized and asked the brothers and sisters to pray and encourage him. And they have given him just that. A group of young people came over to the house to visit him and share experiences of the Christian life.
Then Daniel (14 yr old), who has just started coming to the Sunday meeting, saw the youth group planning to visit Samuel. Though being very shy, he gathered the courage to ask for a visit too, showing interest in studying also.
My son at age 11 is beginning his journey on the way of eternity, another is being influenced to consider life matters, where will it spread to and for how long? Only our Father, who can use even a little bird to bring about His plans, knows. “Two sparrows cost only a penny, but not even one of them can die without your Father’s knowing it.” Matthew 10:29
Thank you, Patrick, for filling our house with song during your short life. Thank you, Lord, for using Patrick to fill our Heavenly Home with people You and we love.
Please remember Samuel and his decision in your prayers.