What an Ugly Bird Taught Me about Love, Hope, and Life

Profile of CockatielI’ve always had pets. At our zoo house, we have three cats, two dogs, six birds, and a tortoise named Sally.

Once an animal enters our home, it stays. For better or for worse, richer or poorer, dumber or dumbest, we’re committed.

A few weeks ago, I posted on Facebook how much I love cockatiels. Cockatiels are cute, friendly, chirpy birds. They aren’t the sharpest nails in the toolshed, which makes them adorable. This is in contrast to my conniving cockatoo, who leads escape parties when we’re not home.

My friend Amy (who runs a bird rescue) read my post and mentioned that she had two little cockatiels that needed a home.

These two cockatiels came from a hoarding situation. Someone who had a good heart took in more birds than she could care for. And so I was introduced to Mama Bird and Pretty Boy.

Pretty Boy was indeed pretty. He was gorgeous gray, full feathered, and looked like a healthy cockatiel should.

Mama Bird was not pretty. She looked like a turkey vulture with a pink, bald head and long, bald neck. She also had one lone feather sticking out of her head and a bulging eye.

Pretty she was not, but when I held her and touched her bare, wrinkly head, her eyes closed and she immediately calmed down.

When I said she was sweet and ugly, my 8-year-old daughter chastised me. “She’s beautiful, Mommy,” she lectured. “I love her.”

On occasion, birds that are in stressful situations will pluck themselves or their cage mates. Mama Bird was bald because Pretty Boy had plucked her. Although she was attached to him, the relationship caused permanent damage.

We took Mama home that night and put her with our sweet but lonely cockatiel, Sunshine. Two days later, they slept together in their food bowl (which they also poop in because they’re cockatiels).

Mama Bird has now been renamed Stormy, which fits her looks but not her personality. She is gentle and sweet.

I don’t want this story to turn into a sappy after-school special on how love conquers all. Love isn’t always enough, and it certainly doesn’t conquer all.

Sometimes love hurts. Sometimes love is damaging and obsessive and destructive.

Sometimes, those we love and are loved by wound us.

Many people I work with go to great lengths to explain that the person who hurt them didn’t mean to. “My parents were really good,” they’ll say, “except …”

You can be a good parent and inadvertently hurt your child. You can be a caring partner but say things that are damaging.

My message is this: It is OK to distance yourself from someone who is hurting you. The distance may be as simple as saying “no” to a get-together, or more complicated, such as moving away from an abusive partner.

Giving yourself space doesn’t mean that the other person or people in the relationship are horrible. In its simplest term, it means that the combination of you and them is caustic.

Pretty Boy is a good bird. Stormy is a good bird. But they are not good together, and Stormy suffered for it.

Now that they’re apart, both are thriving. Pretty Boy is moving into an aviary with plenty of space and a lot of other birds. Stormy has bonded with Sunshine and is healing.

Our ugly little duckling will never be a swan. The damage to her feathers is too great.

But her life is happier now, and she has a new beginning.

As we prepare for the New Year, consider what it is in your life that is causing you hurt and holding you back. Imagine what it would be like to be free from this.

Write down your goals and tell your friends, your therapist, your partner. Make this New Year a time for healing. You can do this.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jenise Harmon, LISW-S, therapist in Columbus, Ohio

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Martina

    Martina

    December 11th, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    It can be sad to learn that someone who is so important to you in so many ways can actually be a part of the toxicity in your life.

  • Jenise Harmon

    Jenise Harmon

    December 11th, 2014 at 10:38 AM

    I agree, Martina. It’s a mourning process in many ways, even if the relationship was toxic. And it’s okay to be sad for that loss.

  • Teresa

    Teresa

    December 11th, 2014 at 2:11 PM

    I hate to admit it but your story about Mama Bird caused a few tears to well up in my eyes! It’s so strange how I related to this story so completely because I have had people in my life too who almost strip you bare they are so mean and overpowering, and then when you least expect it there is someone who comes into your life and can help you to heal from all of that pain caused in part by another.
    Sometimes just like your little Mama Bird, we all need to be rescued just a little.

  • ladybug

    ladybug

    December 12th, 2014 at 9:51 AM

    good story with a good message. Thank you for giving Stormy another chance at life!

  • collin

    collin

    December 12th, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    This stresses the very important message to me that there is something or someone out there for everyone. It may not be who you would think or the thing that you think would lead you to happiness, butt here is some connection out there for us all that can help to make a huge improvement in our lives.

  • Corina

    Corina

    December 14th, 2014 at 5:11 AM

    The thing that struck me the most profoundly about this story, and it may not even be quite on point, was when the author’s child told her that this bird was pretty even though she may not have seen it that way.

    This is what God wants us to see, that there is beauty and that there is value in every living creature on earth. It might not be the one thing about them that is readily apparent to us, but we must strive to find that in them because I think that this is what God wants for us to do.

  • Lisa

    Lisa

    December 16th, 2014 at 3:49 AM

    sometimes the sweetest lessons come in the moments and from the things where we would least expect them

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