THE LITTLE SPARROW IN THE BIG STORE

 

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!

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DAMAGED GOODS (DUCK, OR THE METAPHOR WILL SMACK YOU IN THE FACE)

Damaged goods.  It’s an interesting term, isn’t it—an adjective and a noun that when put together would seem to create an oxymoron.  I mean, if something’s damaged, how can it also be good? 

Here’s a quick story for you:  The home improvement store where I work sells a wide selection of tool chests, including deluxe models for the most serious of handymen, contractors, and craftmakers.  One such tool chest stands nearly six feet tall, and in addition to the usual assortment of drawers and bins, features some pretty sweet perks like a built-in stereo and a mini refrigerator.  Lots of shoppers stop to admire that bad boy, but because of its hefty price tag few of them are actually purchased.

The other day, a customer returned his super-deluxe tool chest and asked for a refund because the item was damaged.  And by damaged, I mean that he bought it several years ago for something like $1,600, used it hard and beat the crap out of it, then decided to Smith the system.  See, the manufacturer has an unconditional lifetime guarantee, so the fact that the owner had covered the tool chest with stickers, broken several drawers, snapped the antenna for the built-in stereo, and left food spills in the mini refrigerator didn’t stop our store from accepting his return.  What can I say?  We have a pretty liberal returns policy. 

But what to do with the cast-off tool chest once it was in the store?  As I said, the chest was pretty badly beaten up.  After the options were considered, it was decided by management to have the tool chest cleaned up a bit, slap a “$200 as is” price tag on it, and roll the dice.

That evening I was fortunate enough to be working in the department where the used tool chest was set out for display.  It looked pretty rugged, and that’s no lie.  But customer after customer stopped to admire the thing.  At one point five men stood there testing its drawers, checking its wheels for rollability, and peeking inside its fridge.  Just pound out that dent, clean it up a bit, get those two drawers back on track; each of them saw the diamond in the rough.  An Amish fellow was especially interested, although he admitted he wouldn’t have much use for the stereo even if he could get it working.   As he walked out, he announced that if the tool chest hadn’t been sold by the time he returned, he’d have to buy it himself, which would probably make his wife furious. When I suggested that if she got mad enough he could always bring out his pillow and sleep in the top compartment of his new tool chest, it tickled him to no end.

Within a few hours  the tool chest found a new home with a gentleman who was able to look beyond its sketchy past to see its present and future value.  Sure, it carried a few scars— but it was still good!

And doesn’t that just describe us all?  Aren’t we all damaged goods

I’m reminded of this scene from Field of Dreams, in which Ray encounters the spirit of his father as a young man:  (click the link below)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cz1TJ4r7bOU&feature=relmfu

Watch it again, and let these lines really sink in:  “My God.  I only saw him years later when he was worn down by life.  Look at him.  He’s got his whole life ahead of him, and I’m not even a glint in his eye.”

 Wow.   Sooner or later we’re all worn down by life, but that doesn’t mean we cease to have value.  I’m surrounded each day by friends who never knew me when I was bright and shiny—they didn’t meet me until life had worn me down and dented me up—and still they are my friends.  Even sweeter are those people who have been with me throughout the journey; my husband, my family, lifelong buddies who can look at me now and see me as the same person I’ve always been:  Lisa.  I’m damaged goods; damaged, but still good.

My favorite Bible story is that of David.  Righteous king, victorious warrior, musician, poet, author of many of the Psalms, a figure central to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. . .what’s not to admire?  But what I love most about David is his fallibility.  David did honorable things in spite of his baser tendencies—he was at times a liar, an adulterer, even a murderer.   Still,  God didn’t wait for David to shape up before guiding him to greatness; God watched with joy as a mere man navigated his own stormy seas and ultimately lived one of history’s most celebrated lives.

Here’s one more quick story:   I hosted a yard sale a few weeks ago, and while all the choice items sold quickly, I was left with a pile of things that nobody seemed to want.  After some time passed, I took those misfit toys and other oddities out to the corner of the yard where I displayed them with a sign that said FREE.  Within a few hours, every single thing had been taken by someone who saw it as treasure. 

From the safety of my porch, I witnessed two teenaged boys pick through the items.  When one of them tucked a couple of cute-but-inevitably-outgrown stuffed animals under his arm, this was their conversation:

Boy #1:  Dude.
Boy #2:  Hey, chill.  My sister’s birthday is this week.
Boy #1:  That’s cool.

Despite the fact that they’ve already lived one life, despite their mended seams and their lumpiness from having been cuddled to sleep or crushed by the weight of backpacks, those stuffed animals still will make some little girl very happy.  

We’re all damaged goods.  Sooner or later, we all fall down.  But we keep on going forward, and that’s called life.

Damaged Goods by Francesca Crescentini

 

The day the child realizes that all adults are imperfect, he becomes an adolescent; the day he forgives them, he becomes an adult; the day he forgives himself, he becomes wise. – Alden Nowlan