Several of my recent posts have been about fundamental issues. Here’s something a little lighter.
On the coast of Maine near the Machias Estuary, the Atlantic Ocean pounds the cliffs and beaches. The scenery is wild and beautiful, and there are lots of seagulls.
One spring a seagull was born named Jimmy Brady. He was a fine little seagull, but his brothers picked on him something terrible, and he grew up feeling nervous and very unsure of himself. He thought he was ugly, and when it came time to jump off the cliff and fly, Jimmy just couldn’t do it. He didn’t believe that a seagull, as horrible and klutzy as he believed himself to be, could ever soar over the waves as a seagull should.
Because he was afraid to fly, the other seagulls picked on him all the more …called him “cowardy, cowardy custard, stick your head in mustard.” They also sneaked up behind him and kicked him on the backside and laughed when he tumbled. Jimmy put on a bold front, but in his heart he was as sad as could be, and he frequently went behind a big rock and had a good cry.
One day a car pulled up and out stepped a well-dressed man with a shiny briefcase. Jimmy started to scurry away, but the stranger threw a fistful of grain on the ground, and in no time at all, Jimmy was eating out of his hand and telling him his tale of woe.
“Well now,” said the stranger, whose name was Paul Malone, “but isn’t this your lucky day?”
“How so?” asked Jimmy.
Malone opened his briefcase. “I’m a sales rep for Happy Day Inc., and we’ve recently developed a product to help seagulls who can’t fly.”
“Really?” exclaimed Jimmy.
“Really!” Malone confirmed. He produced several glossy brochures and spread them on the rocks. There were pictures of gulls doing aerial acrobatics with smiles on their faces that you could see a mile.
“What’s the product?” asked Jimmy
“It’s a pill,” replied Malone. He took a small container from his briefcase. “We call it Airforce. You take one each morning and one each evening, and before you know it, you’ll be flying all over the place.”
“How do they work?” asked Jimmy, for he had an active, inquisitive nature.
“Our researchers tell us that seagulls who can’t fly have a metabolic imbalance – it’s a chemistry thing – that makes the feathers grow misaligned, so they don’t work together. The pills fix the metabolism, which in turn aligns the feathers.”
Jimmy had no idea what that meant, but he nodded thoughtfully, and said he’d like to give it a try.
“How many pills will I need?” asked Jimmy.
“Two a day; that’s sixty a month. Each pack contains seventy in case you drop some. I’ll come by once a month with a new pack. I have customers up and down the coast from Canada to Florida,” said Malone.
Jimmy studied the pills and the color brochures. “Are they very expensive?” he asked.
“Well yes, they are,” Malone replied, “but when you consider the benefits, they’re surely the best bargain around.”
He produced some price lists, and before you could say “windswept beach,” Jimmy had shelled out his money, and Malone had given him his first pack of pills.
Malone packed the brochures back in his briefcase and put the money in his wallet.
”Don’t expect instant results!’ he said. “It takes a little while for the pills to take effect.”
He got into his car. “Oh, by the way, you may feel some discomfort for a few weeks, but be patient and it will pass.”
“OK,” said Jimmy.
“And you may feel a little dizzy at times, and nauseated; and some seagulls have reported headaches, difficulty urinating, feather loss, and disorientation. There have even been some isolated reports of seizures and deaths. But you’re a strong, healthy young fella, and I’m sure you’ll experience none of those things whatsoever. Happy flying!” and he drove off.
Jimmy didn’t feel at all like a “strong, healthy young fella,” but he decided not to worry, and to concentrate on learning to fly. He took one pill. He then jumped in the air and flapped his wings, but the result was no better than before. He tried again and again until he was exhausted – but for all his trying, he couldn’t fly a yard. He even went up on a big rock and, plucking up his courage, jumped off. But he just crashed to the ground below and almost broke his skull. He felt very down.
Then he remembered that Malone had said “Be patient.” So he just went on with life and tried to put the whole matter to the back of his mind. Every once in a while he would try to fly, but the result was always the same – nothing.
Other seagulls noticed Jimmy taking the pills, and asked him about them. He explained about the color brochures and the metabolism and how the pills would one day help him to fly.
“What would they do for a seagull who could already fly?” asked Michael Flannigan, an Irish seagull who had immigrated to America.
“Turn him into an acrobatic genius,” replied Jimmy.
Next month when Malone came to bring Jimmy’s pills he found fourteen other seagulls in line waiting. So he gave them all pills and took their money and everyone was happy.
The fourteen seagulls immediately took their pills and took to the air, and proclaimed how wonderful the pills were and how their aerial skills were dramatically improved. Jimmy didn’t notice any particular improvement in the way they were flying, but he was happy for them and was pleased that he was the one who had brought the pills to the colony. Malone smiled happily as two more elderly gulls came over and bought pills.
As Malone was getting in his car he turned to Jimmy. “Still no luck, young fella? he asked
Jimmy shook his head glumly.
“Hey – now don’t get glum about it! Be patient. Here – have a piece of gum.” He gave Jimmy a piece of chewing gum. Jimmy had never chewed gum before, so he was quite pleased.
“See you next month,” said Malone as he drove off.
The following Sunday was a beautiful day. The sun was shining and the sea was calm. Most of the flock was lazing about on the beach or sharpening their beaks on the rocks. Jimmy stood on the edge of the cliff trying to pluck up the courage to jump off. If he failed to fly, he would simply be killed at the bottom, and that, he felt, would be better than the ground-bound life he was living.
As he was thinking these thoughts he noticed a strong young seagull skillfully riding the air currents along the edge of the cliff. As he drew closer, Jimmy saw that it was George Bracken, a strong young gull descended, it was said, from the Brackens of Hudson Bay.
George came in for a landing beside Jimmy.
“Beautiful day, isn’t it,” he remarked.
“Perfect,” agreed Jimmy.
Jimmy liked George because he was one of the few birds in the colony who never made fun of him.
“How are you getting along with the pills?” George asked.
Jimmy shrugged. “I still can’t fly,” he said resignedly.
George looked out over the ocean. “Would you like me to teach you how to fly? he said.
“Would you? Jimmy asked.
“Sure,” said George. Climb on my back and hold on.”
Jimmy climbed aboard and clung for all he was worth. George launched off, and, even with the extra weight, he was soon soaring gracefully along the cliff face. Jimmy had never been so happy. He felt the air rush past his eyes and felt the wind gently ruffling his feathers. George flew down towards the water, and together they skimmed along the wave tops, the salt water splashing their plumage with beads of silver. Then George climbed in wide sweeping circles – up, up, up, until the world below and everything in it was as tiny as ants.
“How are you doing?” George called.
Jimmy was almost too happy to reply. He squeezed George’s back tighter. “Great,” he said. “I never dreamt that anything could be this good. When are you going to teach me how to fly?”
“Whenever you’re ready, just let go and do what I do.”
“Oh, I couldn’t let go.”
“Go ahead,” George said reassuringly. “I’ll catch you if you fall.”
Jimmy studied George’s movements for a while, then he started flapping his own wings in unison. Up, down; up, down – big graceful sweeps. After a while he could feel by the movement of the air that their wings were working together, but he was scared to let go.
“Keep flapping,” said George. “You’re doing great. And don’t look down – look up.”
Jimmy flapped away, his strokes improving every minute. All the time he looked up at the white puffy clouds far above. After a few minutes, he looked down, and to his amazement, he saw that George had stopped flying. His wings were folded and his tail was down, just as if he were squatting on a rock.
“Hey,” said Jimmy. “What’re you doing?”
“I’m enjoying the free ride. What’re you doing?”
“I’m … flying?” Jimmy exclaimed happily.
“You sure are. You’re a seagull. It’s what you were born for!”
So Jimmy stopped taking the pills and never had any more difficulty flying. In fact, he became one of the best fliers on that part of the coast. But he never forgot his troubled beginnings, and was always ready to help when he noticed a young seagull having difficulty getting off the ground.
Moral: At times we all need a little lift.