Every Monday morning, the big bag of bird seeds would arrive at the house of the elderly man. He had placed a repeat order with a pet store near to his house in Houston, Texas.
The elderly man lived with his wife to whom he had been married for 60 years. The couple were now both in their 80s.
The elderly man would follow the same routine early every morning. Before he ate his breakfast, he would go out into his garden and fill the bird feeder with seeds. The bird feeder was a small wooden house hanging from the wall.
As soon as he would go back into his house, birds from everywhere would come and feed on the seeds. While he ate his breakfast, he would watch the birds feed from the large glass window that looked out onto his patio.
One day, in 2012, there was an emergency. The elderly man suffered a heart attack and he was rushed into hospital. His wife, children and grandchildren, all who lived nearby, rushed to his bedside.
The doctors said that they would have to perform emergency surgery on his heart, known as a “by-pass” operation.
The situation was serious and requests for prayers went out to the elderly man’s relatives all over the world.
One such request reached me while I was in the Detainee Unit at HM Prison Long Lartin. I was worried so I prayed for the elderly man and asked my fellow detainees to do the same.
For the family, the rest of the day passed in a blur. They remained at his bedside the whole day then returned home for the night to rest. Early the next morning, his wife woke up and entered the kitchen to have her breakfast.
As she sat down to eat, she noticed that a flock of birds had gathered on the garden fences outside the kitchen. They appeared to be the same birds that would feed from the bird feeder every morning.
She assumed that the birds must be hungry so she searched for the bag of bird seeds.
The bag was lying in one corner of the kitchen. When she saw it, she remembered how her husband would religiously feed the birds every morning. She scooped out some of the seeds into a bowl, then went outside and filled up the bird feeder with them.
Though the sun had risen, it was still early in the morning and the air was fresh. The day was just at the start of what was going to be another hot Texan day.
As she returned to her dining table, something strange happened. The birds did not move and nor did they make a sound. They did not rush to the feeder to feed like they usually did; they just sat there on the fences, completely still. Something was not right.
She continued to observe the birds. The entire flock of birds just sat there motionless and silent. The birds had sullen looks on their faces.
The birds appeared to be grieving.
She finished her breakfast and then went about her domestic chores. Every now and then she would glance at the garden. The birds were still there, on the fences, very quiet.
After breakfast she traveled to the hospital to be at her husband’s bedside. She returned at the end of the day to see that the birds were still sitting on the fences, without making a sound.
It was only when the sun set that the birds finally flew away. The bird feeder was full, the birds had not eaten one seed.
When she woke up early the next morning and went downstairs to the kitchen, she was met with the same sight. The birds were quietly sitting on the fences. The bird feeder was full.
She went to the hospital, spent the day there then returned, to be met with the same sight. Only with the onset of sunset would the birds fly away.
The same thing happened the next day, and the next day, and the next. The elderly man’s surgery was successful and he survived. After ten days he was discharged to return home.
No sooner had he entered his house that the birds began to feed again. This appeared to be the first time that they had eaten in ten days.
Such intense encounters between animals and humans happen all the time. Many humans think that because they cannot speak or understand the language of animals, that animals must be stupid. This could not be farther from the truth.
It is like a foreign language. When someone does not speak your language, it means that they speak another language very well.
God created animals as communities and he gave them means to communicate. The fact that we cannot understand their language does not make them stupid. Verses like this appear throughout the Quran:
“The seven heavens and the earth and whatever is in them exalt Him. And there is not a thing except that it exalts Him by His praise, but you do not understand their [way of] exalting. Indeed, He is ever Forbearing and Forgiving.” [Quran 17:44]
I had one such encounter with a bird when I was detained in solitary confinement for two years at a Supermax prison in the United States. The prison was set in the midst of a natural bird sanctuary.
Every morning and evening I would sit for hours watching through the narrow six-inch wide non-opening slit window glass in my cell at the birds sitting on the prison perimeter fencing.
One day I was going through a particularly difficult period. Not being able to talk to another human being for long periods of time is worse than being deprived of food and drink.
I was standing there observing the birds when suddenly one bird flew all the way to the outside of my window ledge. This had never happened before. There was no food at my non-opening glass window and there were definitely no seeds there.
The bird made eye contact with me and held it for a few moments. It was as if he knew that I used to watch his flock every day. It was as if he was saying to me, “Never feel that you are alone, because we are also here with you, on your side.”
After a few seconds the bird flew away, leaving me feeling uplifted as a result.
People who live in cities tend to suffer more depression than those who live in the countryside, amongst nature and animals. Frequently connecting with the natural world and reflecting on the marvels of God’s creation is a very powerful aid to happiness.
Sometimes when we are going through difficult periods of our life, even the smallest of encounters with God’s creation can remind us that we are part of a larger world. That even when it might feel like we are alone, we are never really alone.
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