A story from Courage Does Not Always Roar.
"Courage is the power to let go of the familiar."
I met Kathleen through Mary Anne Radmacher who wrote the forward to this book. Kathleen is a wonderful woman and author who shared this beautiful story with me about her canary giving her a voice. Here is her story...
A gift from my children for a long ago Mother's Day. When we met he was young and very much alive, brilliant orange with yellow tail feathers. For his abode the children chose a turquoise and white cage reminiscent of the Taj Mahal.
They selected him for his beauty and because they were told that he would sing. I was thrilled. We settled him into his palace, hung the bells and toys, and began the great family tradition known as Naming the Pet, which any parent can tell you is far more complicated than Naming The Child because during the latter process the child doesn't get to vote. Since consensus could not be reached, the talks were tabled pending a sign from the universe. As the days went on, the new little one never uttered a sound. I read everything I could about canaries, grappled with the philosophical dilemma of keeping a bird in a cage, wondering whether his silence was a form of protest. I thought perhaps he was lonely. Researching the social requirements of a canary I learned that introducing a companion could incite an ugly battle to the death. He was eating and drinking and playing with the toys, so I figured maybe a little speech therapy was in order.
Our local library had very few choices in the "Books on tape for birds" section. I ended up borrowing An Audio Guide to Duck Calls and North American Bird Songs. I hoped these wouldn't turn out to be too confusing for a canary. For all I knew I'd be playing a tape that said "have a nice day and watch out for cats" in 52 dialects. But it was all our library had to offer.
So every day we listened to the tapes, followed by free time when I turned on the radio or CDs, trying all kinds of music. He listened without comment to Ella Fitzgerald, Led Zeppelin, Chopin, and The Dixie Chicks. I even whistled and sang for him to model the open-your-mouth-and-have-sound-emerge concept, in case he had forgotten about that option. We kept up this routine for three weeks. I called the library and was told I could renew the tapes as there was not a waiting list for them.
I also called the store where he had been purchased in case there was something else I should be doing. The staff told me to be sure that he was not near a draft and that he had a covered place to retreat to as needed. Oh, they said, and sometimes a he turns out to be a she, and therefore wouldn't ever sing, so if I wasn't happy I could return the bird. But that was not an option for me. I'd invested too much love to turn back, and it felt very unethical to fault a creature for not being born male. So I continued our daily tutoring sessions, and he or she kept me company as I worked, though our conversations remained one-sided.
And then one afternoon, while Ronan Tynan, one of the Three Irish Tenors, was singing My Wild Irish Rose, a very loud high-pitched song wailed along with him. I was ecstatic. The little canary continued singing through the end of that tune and into the next. I put the CD on "continual repeat" and he sang all afternoon. Since Ronan Tynan could be the poster child for triumph over adversity I was certain this was the sign we'd been waiting for.
When the children came home from school the Irish tenor and the Avian soprano were still performing their duet. Our canary was immediately and unanimously named Ronan. To congratulate our little champion, and spur him on to further feats of greatness, I cut out a picture of Mr. Tynan from the Irish Tenors pinup calendar Aunt Peg had given me the year before. I hung it inside the cage near one of his perches. When I came downstairs the next morning I was horrified to see that Ronan Jr. had ruthlessly pecked Big Ronan's eyes out. I hadn't realized that his territorial instincts would transcend species and dimension.
Undeterred, I cut out new pictures of the Great Role Model, this time taping them to the outside of the cage. This gave him an unfortunate incarcerated look, but one that was preferable to the gruesome images of my hero with his eyes poked out. Ronan the canary sang his way through the years that followed, while the children grew up and the world changed around him.
He patiently listened as I grew into the realization that big changes needed to be made in my own world. I practiced speaking clearly and without digression while Ronan listened. He quietly sat on his perch while I explained that while I understood that this would be very difficult, and it was not a decision I had come to lightly, there was no other option. Some days I wavered in my courage, and wondered aloud if in fact I should just quietly surrender and stay put because so many lives are impacted when a family comes apart. I told him that I had run out of hope, and that this was not easy for me, either. If Ronan grew weary of my angst monologues, he never showed it. By listening and commenting with only an occasional chirp my little feathered Buddha helped me to articulate the things that really mattered, and to eliminate those that might be unnecessary or unkind.
Over time this certainty worked its way down to my feet, and helped me stand unwavering in the decision to end my twenty-year marriage. I reassured Ronan that we were in this together and that no matter what he would get his Fruity Treats. He continued to fill our home, before and after the big move, with his beautiful songs.
A few years later, on a gray morning in November, I came downstairs to find that my sweet Ronan had died. He hadn't shown any signs of illness, though he had been less vocal in recent months. We had been together for ten years, a nice long life by canary standards.
I remain grateful to my sweet Ronan.
I thought he needed me to help him find his voice.
Turns out it was the other way around.