THE SONGBIRD’S SILENCE
Once upon a time, not that long ago, the forest was full of noises. You could hear the birds sing, or the faraway growl of a wolf, or the call of cats, or the constant trilling of insects. The forest was a busy place at night because all the creatures were claiming their space. They were saying, with the noises they made, that this was their home.
Then human beings began to capture the creatures of the forest. Some liked to have the butterflies as friends. Some wanted the tigers as pets. But the creature they wanted most was the songbird. It was not the most beautiful bird in the world but it had the most enchanting song. Its song was so wonderful that people wanted the songbird in their house so they could live always with the strange and charming music it made. Soon everybody wanted one.
There was once a little boy who lived near the forest. His name was Duba. He used to love going to sleep at night and listening to the many mysterious noises of the forest. As he went to sleep at night he would imagine all the things the animals were doing. It seemed to him that as he was going to sleep they were waking up. He imagined the monkeys chattering and telling one another stories. He imagined the birds in long singing competitions. And he imagined the wild dogs growling in their nightly attempts to talk to the moon. He loved these imaginings of his and they helped him sleep nicely at night.
Then one day it was Duba’s birthday and as a present his father and mother gave him a songbird. It came in a big cage. Duba was very happy with his present. He had never had a pet before and never come that close to a bird before either. And it was such a special thing to listen to the songbird’s melodies in the morning and at night. He was very grateful to his mother and father for giving him such a wonderful present. He grew very attached to the bird and wanted to be with it all the time. He was only really happy when the bird was singing.
Duba was so fascinated by the bird’s songs that he wanted to know what it was singing about and why its singing was so sweet. Sometimes when the songbird sang Duba would be so moved that he would begin crying. The beauty of the song was so haunting that Duba took to asking everyone if they knew what the bird was singing about. His mother and father couldn’t tell him. None of the elders could tell him either. Then one day Duba met a wise old man near the forest.
“O wise man,” he said, “do you know why the songbird’s song is so sweet? What is it saying?”
“Why are you asking me?” the wise man asked.
“Because everyone says you are a wise man.”
“I think the songbird is wiser than me.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because it is singing a song that has caused you to ask many questions, and yet you do not know what it is singing about.”
“So how can I find out why its song is so sweet or what it is saying?”
“I think you should ask the songbird itself.”
“Ask the songbird? How? I don’t speak its language. I won’t understand what it says.”
“How do you know?”
“Because I have tried.”
“Maybe you should ask the question in a different way.”
“You will know when the time comes.”
“I hope so.”
“And you should listen in a different way too.”
“How should I do that?”
“You should listen with more than your ears.”
“More than my ears? What else should I listen with then?”
“Perhaps,” said the wise man, “you should listen with your heart.”
Duba was so taken with this conversation with the old man that when he got home he forgot to listen to the bird’s song. He was thinking about how he could ask the question differently and how he could listen with his heart. That night he didn’t sleep very well and he didn’t know why. In fact, he slept very badly. He tossed and turned all night. He was aware that something was missing. Something that made his sleep lovely was gone. Then just before dawn he fell asleep. And in his sleep he had a dream. In his dream the songbird spoke to him.
“Do you want to know why my song is so sweet?”
“Do you also want to know what I keep saying in my songs?”
“Yes. I have been asking everyone those questions. No one could give me an answer.”
“I was the only one who could give you an answer. But you had to ask the right question. And you had to listen with your heart.”
“Did I ask you the right question?”
“Yes, you did.”
“You asked it with your soul. You asked it from the part of you that really cared.”
“What are the answers?”
“Have you noticed something about the world?”
“No. What should I have noticed?”
“Did you notice that something is missing?”
“Yes. But I don’t know what it is.”
“No one does.”
“What is it?”
“The forest is silent.”
“Is it? Why?”
“Because people have been treating the animals and birds badly.”
“Yes. Take me, for example. Do you think I am happy?”
“You must be. Your songs are so beautiful.”
“My songs are beautiful because I am unhappy. My songs are trying to tell you the terrible things you are doing to the forest, to the bears, the pangolins, the iguanas, the beautiful birds, the tigers. Because you are not protecting them the forest is silent.”
“Yes. The forest is dying.”
“What can I do?”
“Listen with your heart.”
“I like having you as a pet.”
“I know. But I don’t like being a pet. I am made to be free. You say my song is beautiful in your cage. But you should hear me sing when I am free.”
“What is it like?”
“It is as if all of nature is singing, the sea, the sky, the trees, and all the majestic creatures. It is as if God is singing through me. My song when I am free is a million times richer than my song in a cage. The only song I sing in a cage is the song of tears, the song of the silent forest.”
“I am so sorry.”
“If you are really sorry you would do something for me.”
“What is that?”
Duba immediately awoke. It was still dark. He listened carefully. It was true. The forest was silent. He didn’t hear the wolf cough, or the trilling of insects. He hurried to the cage. The songbird was silent. Nothing he did would make the songbird sing. Then he understood why the songbird was no longer singing.
He went and woke up his mother and father. They were surprised to see him.
“Mum and Dad,” said the boy, “we have done the songbird a terrible wrong. We have taken it from the forest, its home, and now it will not sing. Because of the songbird the forest is silent. Have you not noticed?”
His mother and father listened.
“You are right,” they said. “The forest is silent. How is it we never noticed?”
“We have to help the forest live again,” said the boy. “First we must return the songbird to its home, but carefully. Then we have to protect the creatures of the forest, or one day we too will fall silent.”
“But how do you know these things?” asked the father.
“I don’t know. I just started to listen,” he said, “with my heart.”