At the big home improvement store where I work, there are managers and project specialists and customer service associates. There are cashiers, loaders, and night stockers. But of all my coworkers at the big home improvement store, my favorite is the little sparrow who lives in the rafters.
In most stores, the presence of any animal would be an oddity at least, more likely a disturbance. But because of our store’s size and openness, birds fly in and out at will. They’ve become our unofficial mascots—ad hoc good will ambassadors at whom adult customers smile, and which their children regard with unabashed glee.
What is it about birds that makes us humans feel all homey? Our vocabulary is seasoned with bird-related idioms meant to evoke home and family: A couple just setting up house is said to be nesting, with that first shared home likely referred to as a love nest. Advancing one’s position in life is sometimes called feathering the nest. An expectant woman is on the nest, or on the egg, and when the children are grown, we say they’ve flown the nest. At that point, we nickname their parents empty nesters.
So charmed are we by our winged friends, that many of us openly invite them into our lives— transforming our yards into bird havens by decorating with feeders, baths, and nest-friendly houses. Perhaps you’ve seen that clever commercial in which Mama and Papa Cardinal use their local home improvement store to build the bird house of their dreams. That’s no coincidence.
Still, it’s not the result of advertising that I’m so fond of the store sparrows. It’s the harmonic relationship which has developed between the two; it’s what the birds have come to represent to me: adaptability and survival.
Snugged in the beams above the lumber area cash register is a nest built by a little brown sparrow. I watched as the nest took shape; at first she flew out the loading doors and back in again with twigs gathered from the ground, but soon she was incorporating materials from the store itself. Tufts of insulation were carried up into the beams, along with snippets of twine and other packing materials. The little brown sparrow and her mate made themselves at home in their adopted, block- and- steel meadow. Undaunted by the noise, the clutter, and the close proximity to creatures of a much larger and much different species, they learned to raid the seasonal shop for spilled bird seed and other goodies. And unless I’ve misjudged the signs, they’ve filled their carefully-built nest with a clutch of eggs. How could my heart not be happy at such good news?
Who knows what brought the little brown sparrow into our store weeks ago? It’s a big, wide world out there. But journeys tend to begin and end as they like, and we make our homes wherever that road leads. Sometimes the journey is geographical, with starting and ending points in different physical locations. But for many of us, the journey is an emotional one—or a spiritual one, or one of self-discovery, or of self-improvement. The point of some journeys—so it would seem—is to overcome an obstacle or survive a crisis with perseverance and grace.
Likewise, the home we make might be a three-dimensional structure built of supplies found in the aisles of a home improvement store; yet, home can just as accurately be defined as that state in which a person feels comfortable with his situation, or within his own skin. What a home, sweet home that must be!
I applaud the little brown sparrow: her determination, her creativity, and the moxie with which she hops among employees and customers, shopping for bits and pieces to take back to her nest, are the embodiment of home improvement, both literal and metaphorical. I can only hope to do my job as well as she does hers!