Editor's Note: We live in a country whose society has forsaken most traditional measures related to proper behavior. The most serious of these may be the diminishing emphasis on responsible parenting. The historic bedrock of our society, traditional rules of conduct, is being abandoned. Consider this work by Walter Wangerin, graciously provided by Reverend Laura Smith Adam. Parenting Hornbills commit to a level of work and sacrifice perhaps unmatched among all the species on earth. While this story describes behavior that exceeds the tenets of good parenting for humans, it reminds us that those who succeed us are our legacy and that legacy influences the nature of all our people. We must provide the best life we can for our children.
The Story of the Hornbill
By Walter Wangerin
In the rain forest of Africa, there lives a common, awkward, ugly bird. I will honor her as exquisite, because she is the cursive script of the Creator. When she flies, her flight is the handwriting of God. When she nests, God is speaking parables.
This bird inhabits the cathedral dark beneath high canopies of leaves. The vaulted space is green. Her world is loud with the shrieks of animals and dangerous with predators:
· jackals on the ground,
· the egg-eating bush-babies in the branches,
· monkeys and serpents and,
· wheeling over all, the eagle.
She lives in a perilous place. But she lives. She flies. Swift on her wing, she eludes her enemies and feeds on the fruit of the climbing vines, the high and flowering trees. She flies. At all times, it is her nature and her freedom to fly – except when she mothers her children.
She’s called the hornbill because she’s got a beak as big as a hollow log; and on top of that beak, a horn. Megaphone beak. Her cries would echo just because of that beak. It covers the whole of her face, and it sticks out in front of her like a spade – two spades clapped together, a cannon, a crag, a peninsula.
This isn’t a pretty bird.
And affixed to the crest of her beak is a gross lump, a sort of a helmet, a gratuitous horn. The rhinoceros has a reason for his horn. Who knows why the hornbill carries hers?
The hornbill is a large and ugly bird. No! But the hornbill is beautiful.
Watch her. Watch what she does. Watch what she does to herself for the sake of others.
When the time draws nigh that she should lay and love a clutch of eggs, this ugly bird transfigures herself by sweet degrees and sacrifice. She soars through the forest in search of the perfect tree, which has a hollow trunk to receive herself and her beak and her children. When she has found it, she enters; and then she flies no more.
Immediately, with the help of her mate from the outside, she sets to work to wall the doorway shut. Mud and dung make a hard cement, a little interior fortress: no predator will break in to terrorize her children or to eat them – NO! … They are protected by her love. Out of her bowels comes their wall against a treacherous world. She is their refuge while they are tiny. She is their space a while.
But the wall that protects her children has imprisoned her. There is no help for it. For the sake of her children, she has exchanged the spacious air of the forest for a tight, dark cell and inactivity.
And what does this mean? It means that a mother has sacrificed her freedom, which is to fly. But what does that mean? It means that she has sacrificed her independence, too. She is reduced to trusting absolutely in her mate.
Look: there is a slot in the wall she’s constructed, a vertical gap exactly the size of her beak. If the hornbill is to survive in her cell, she has to eat. If she’s going to eat, her mate must bring her food – and then she will feed with peculiar intimacy beak-to-beak through this slot, almost as if she were a child herself. If her mate forsakes her, she will die. But for the love of her children, a mother has chosen dependency.
Watch her. Watch that slot in the wall of dung. Food goes in, but things come flying out of it. The hornbill is fastidious. She twists around, and aims, and shoots her waste to the outside world with a stinging accuracy. In this way, she keeps the nest immaculate. She can also burn the eye of a bush-baby peeking in. She can change the mind of a monkey who thought to snatch a meal.
But soon, when her children are hatched and very tender, something else comes flying out of the slot, something so terribly beautiful that every parent must gasp with understanding, and every godly person stand in awe. Watch: it is feathers. One by one, the hornbill’s feathers sail into the air and flutter down to earth. But these are not the down of her breast: they are the longest, strongest feathers of her wing. And this is an immediate act of mercy for her children, because the shafts of these feathers could wound them as she moves about in the tiny space. Therefore, she plucks her primary feathers with a monstrous beak.
And what does that mean? It means that this mother has torn flight from herself. It means that she has sacrificed her very nature for the sake and the saving of her children.
Therefore, the hornbill is passing beautiful!
She is the very parable of Love.
BE SURE TO READ CHARLEY WILKISON'S "FERGUSON" ARTICLE ON PAGE 3