Free as a Bird.

Throughout my life, the happiest individual I’ve ever encountered was Jim. In almost every situation I ever saw Jim in, he was happy. Even if something bad had happened to him, once it was over, he was happy again. He almost made happiness look simple, even as there were some factors working against him, and for much of his life, he did have some things in his way.

Jim was a parakeet that I had for almost 10 years. He came to me when I was in 4th grade. My family has had birds since I was a child. I lived across the street from an elementary school and one day while sitting in class during 4th grade, an announcement was made stating that a parakeet had flown into the gymnasium and if anyone lived in the area and had a bird, they should come to the office. I went there, but by that time, they had him covered under a box and wouldn’t let it up in case he took off. But, the school secretary called my house and spoke to my mother who checked and both of the parakeets we had at the time were accounted for. However, she also said that we would take him and keep him until someone claimed him. Nobody ever did, and he stayed with us. We named him Jim due to him flying into the gym at the school. Yeah, we were clever like that.

We had no idea how old Jim was at the time. But, the tag on his foot indicated that he may have been 2 years old when we got him. He wasn’t a tame bird, in the sense that he would very rarely come out and fly around the house and play with people like some other birds we’ve had would do. But, he would still happily sit in his cage, eat, play, and chirp. He was always chirping. He even shared my love of hard rock. His favorite band was Nirvana, and his favorite song was “Heart Shaped Box.” He always reacted to that song.

Another parakeet we had, JJ also wasn’t as tame as others. He just wouldn’t play with people. And at one point, maybe just to save room in the house, we decided to make JJ and Jim roommates. They got along, but JJ was definitely the Alpha Male in the cage. Even though Jim was a bigger bird, JJ quickly established that it was HIS room and Jim was second fiddle. A great example of this would be if the two of them were both on the swing in the cage, JJ would stand as close to the center as possible and Jim would be pushed up against the side of the swing. Sometimes, he would even have one foot on the swing and one foot on the side of the cage, just so he could be partially on the swing.

But, let me get back to an example of why I believe Jim was the happiest creature ever. There was a time when I heard some commotion in the cage. I looked and Jim had gotten his foot caught in a toy. It was a round ball/bell with slits in it. He got his foot stuck and was flapping and screaming in an effort to get out. I went over to help. I grabbed him, and he bit me, but not to hurt, just to grip. He understood the help I was trying to provide. I actually couldn’t get him out, but my mother was able to. Within minutes of his foot being removed from the toy, he was on a perch in the cage (with the foot up in the air), but his head feathers were up and he was chirping a happy chirp. The trauma was over, time to move on and sing. That’s how he lived his life.

At the time we had JJ and Jim, we also had some other birds, including Sparky. Sparky was another special bird. She was incredibly friendly and loved coming out and playing with people. She also liked playing with JJ and Jim. We would sometimes put her in their cage and let them play for a while. JJ often dominated the playtime. There were times when he wouldn’t let Jim near her. One time, we had their cage in the kitchen and we brought Sparky in and put her in their cage. JJ started with his dominance and Jim snapped. He went after him. The two of them were LITERALLY rolling around on the bottom of the cage fighting. Of course, when this happened, Sparky went to the front door of the cage and stared at me until I opened it. Once I did, she took off and flew back to her cage. She wanted no part of that. Once JJ and Jim realized she had left, they stopped fighting. JJ sat in the corner of the cage for a while and Jim went right back to chirping. The problem was over, time to move on and sing.

The fighting I described just now was not common. It was the only time it happened. For the most part, Jim just accepted that JJ was the boss. The swing belonged to JJ. If JJ wanted a particular toy that Jim was playing with, Jim would let him have it. But, he still seemed happy.

Unfortunately, JJ ended up getting sick and he died. We feared for Jim’s health at this point, but he lasted a few more years. Without JJ there, the one thing I noticed first about Jim wasn’t a loneliness, but how his patterns of behavior didn’t change. When he was on his swing, he would still stand off to the side. If there were other spots that he was almost forced into staying in because JJ made it that way, Jim would still go to those spots. It took him a very long time to realize he was allowed to do things differently. He was able to break his programming a little bit.

So, what is the whole point of me writing about a parakeet? It’s not just for nostalgia reasons. While I do like talking about my birds and how much I like them, this particular story is one I relate to a bit. Jim being forced into a way of doing things, being programmed to feel secondary, and not always being able to do anything about is pretty similar to my own story. I’ve often spoken of my programming and I’ll be getting more and more into that in upcoming entries, I’m sure. But, there’s more to it than that.

Jim’s been gone for almost 20 years, but there’s lessons to be learned from him. He showed that IT IS POSSIBLE to break bad programming. He showed IT IS POSSIBLE to move on from adversity. And maybe most importantly, he showed that it is possible to just enjoy yourself, even if things may not be that good at the time. I need to follow his example. But, I do have to say that in all honesty, I don’t know if I’m capable of being as happy as Jim was in life. I don’t know if anyone is, but if I can get to just half of the level of happiness and half of the carefree attitude that he had, I’ll be in a very good place.

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Jim (on the left) and JJ in 1989.

 

 

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