Monday, April 18, 2005


Here is a phenomenon that has been taking place recently. Last Spring my son Greg was surprised, then annoyed, by the actions of a robin which posted itself on the fence opposite the study window. As Greg worked on the computer, the bird would fly at the window, striking it with his feet in the apparent attempt to land on the gridwork (a plastic piece sandwiched between two panes). This happened repeatedly throughout the day. In an effort to dissuade the bird from striking the window, I placed a small platform at the base of the window. At least it would be a place for the bird to land. Notwithstanding, the bird kept up his antics for several weeks, to Greg's chagrin.

This Spring a robin is repeating this action. Is it the same one? How could it possibly be another? I stand at the window and watch as he preens himself, balancing on one leg on the fence. Then here he comes, fluttering against the window, dropping to the platform. He gives me a look, hops about face, pauses, and returns to the fence. He knows I am here. He never succeeds in landing on the grillwork. And yet, there he is again flapping, scratching, recuperating, and off again. Why does he keep doing it?

In March, I played the lead role in Horton Foote's play The Young Man from Atlanta. The character I played has done the same thing. He made a decision as a young man that he would measure success by the accumulation of wealth and possessions. Despite all the failures that come his way, despite his reluctant awareness of having failed, he will not change; indeed he seems incapable of it. The play was rather unsatisfying for the audience, because they want for the characters to act on their observations. The audience would love for the main character to say to his wife, "Honey, I am so sorry for what I have done. Let's start fresh." But his last line, delivered while his bawling wife clings to him and he chokes back his tears and anger, is "Everything's going to be all right." And you know that there is no way that everything will be all right, because nothing is going to change and the ship is sinking.

A friend of mine was pondering the question of whether a truly evil person could really repent. His observation was that the further one pursues a path, the harder it is to choose another path. Every step to the left makes a step to the right more difficult. Each decision trims away the options for other directions. It is not that the evil person cannot repent; it is just so very much harder the further he has gone towards evil.

The decisions of youth are not entirely irreversible; neither are they inconsequential. (The bird just hit the window again.)