The morning sunlight made the white bird’s feathers shine and sparkle. But the white bird’s thoughts did not shine or sparkle. She was sad and worried. Her master had tossed her up into the air several days ago and now she had forgotten what she was supposed to do or where she was supposed to go.
“I do not see anything that is familiar to me!” she cried. “And I can’t even go home for I’ve forgotten that as well!” A tear glistened on her cheek feathers. She looked once more at the meadow beneath her tree. A little child was standing there looking at her. A tear was on his cheek as well.
“Oh, beautiful white bird! can you help me find my way home?” he called.
The white bird flew down to his shoulder. “Which way did you come?” she asked.
The little boy pointed. “Over there. But I cannot see my house now! I think it must be gone!”
“Oh, no, little one; I think it must be over the hill where you cannot see it. But it is still there!
Let me fly to my tree branch and look.” The white bird flew back to the tree and looked in the direction the little boy had pointed. Yes, there was a small cottage. “Just turn around and walk back the way you came,” said the bird. See, I will fly ahead of you!”
The little boy clapped his hands. “Thank you, beautiful bird!” And together they found the path that would take the little boy home. He waved goodbye as he ran up the lane.
The white bird flew back to her tree. Her heart was a little lighter now for helping someone; but she still did not know where she was or what she was supposed to do. She did know she had been sitting in this particular tree too long. “Perhaps if I fly farther I, too, will find my home.” So off she flew over the meadow and over the next few hills.
But nothing familiar came into sight. She did find a wheat field and ate a few grains for her breakfast. As she pecked at the wheat she heard a sad sigh. She looked up and saw an aged farmer cutting the wheat. He looked very sad as he worked. “Oh, my!” she heard him say, “The crop is so poor this year and the work remains just as hard! If only I could hope for a better day!”
The white bird fluttered up from the ground, “How sad you look, Grandfather! Surely there is something good to think about!”
The farmer dropped his scythe and let the white bird sit on his hand. “How beautiful you are!” he exclaimed. “What a wonder my field has hidden within it!” And the old man smiled at his guest. “What are you doing way out here in the fields? Surely you live in those fancy houses rich men keep on their rooftops in the city!”
“I do not know, Grandfather. I am lost and I cannot find my way forward or back.”
“Stay with me in the field for a while and perhaps we can think of a way to find your home.” said the farmer. White Bird stayed with the farmer for several days. She would sit on his shoulder as he worked in the field or perch on his table as he ate his meals. Just having her there made the old man happy. “I am glad you came,” he said. “I was very lonely. My children live far away and my good wife is in Heaven. Will you make your home with me?”
“That would be a nice thing,” said the lovely white bird, “but I feel in my heart that I must go on.” She hung her head. “I think I am very, very old, Grandfather. My eyes have seen many journeys and my heart seems strangely jubilant, even though I do not know why. Today I must go on. But I will fly from your field and I will leave you the gift of hope. I know your good wife is in Heaven, but she is watching you and loving you and some day you will be together again.”
The old farmer ran a gnarled hand over her soft white feathers. “I thank you for staying with me a while and bringing happiness back into this cottage. Now I must cut more wheat. I wish I could give you something for your journey, but you could not carry it.”
White Bird flew to his shoulder. You have given me peaceful rest and companionship. That is a true gift, Grandfather.” The old man with the white bird on his shoulder walked through the barn lot and on to the wheat field. White Bird flew from his shoulder and swept in graceful arcs back and forth before she passed from his sight.
White Bird flew over fields and forests, towns and hills. She would rest in a high tree now and then, but her path was always to the West. One day a meadow lark flew beside her. “Where are you going, White Bird?” the meadow lark asked. “And why do you not sing as I do?”
“I have forgotten where I am to go,” answered White Bird. “But I feel I must keep on in this direction. I cannot sing beautifully; I can only make a soft cooing sound.” She brought up from low in her throat a coo that had a soft bubbling sound to it. “I am useful for quieting newborn babies.” Her wings skipped a beat and she fluttered to a tree branch. “Why is that important?” she said aloud.
Meadow lark landed beside her. “What is wrong? Are you hurt?
“No. A thought came to me and I think it is a clue. I must think about this.” And she tucked her head beneath her wing and sat very still. She was quiet so long the meadow lark flew off to find other companions.
White Bird thought until her head ached, but no new thoughts came to her and she fell asleep. She spent the day and night huddled on the tree branch. The morning sun sent rosy light glistening off her feathers and woke her from her sleep. She could hear Meadow larks singing their morning praise and a bunny and her children hopped along beneath her. The sun, the larks and the bunny family had lifted her spirits and she set off toward the west with renewed energy.
Many lands passed beneath White Bird as she searched for her home. Some were filled with cities and some were covered with forests or bright deserts. There were streams and rivers to cross and sometimes White Bird could hardly find food. But she kept flying and looking.
One day she flew into a forest and took shelter in a fragrant pine with branches so lush and needles so soft she felt as though she had found a cozy bed. She tucked her head beneath her wing and settled in for a nap. She looked for all the world like a snowball lying on the dark green boughs.
She did not hear the red fox who passed by or the hedgehog who shuffled busily along. She did not hear the mighty stag until his nose touched her feathers. The White Bird woke with a start and a flutter of bright wings. The stag jumped back and exclaimed, “Excuse me, beautiful bird! I thought you were a ball of snow and just right for a thirsty deer!”
Looking down from the higher branch where she had flown in fright, White Bird reassured him. “You need not apologize, for I was sleeping so soundly I did not hear you come.”
“Why are you here in my forest?” asked the stag. “I have not seen a bird like you in many years.”
“I do not know”, said White Bird, “I am on a journey to a place I cannot remember from a place I have forgotten. May I ride on your fine antlers for a while?
“I would be honored,” said the stag. “Sometimes I walk slowly and sometimes I fly over the ground like a bird myself.” So the stately deer and the beautiful white bird traveled together for a time. “Did I hear you say you have forgotten where you are going?” he asked politely.
“Yes, I know there is a place I must be, and I know I have been there before, but I cannot remember where or what it is.”
“Perhaps I can help you remember,” said the stag. “Will you know what it looks like when you find it?”
“Yes, I think I will.”
“Tell me what you see in your mind when you think about the end of your journey.”
The White Bird was silent for many minutes. Finally she spoke. “I know it is warm. And I seem to see a brightness nearby.” She shook her head and wing feathers. “It is all mixed up, Sir. It has been such a long time and I am very tired.”
The stag stopped beside a small stream. “Why don’t you settle down into that cup-shaped branch of my antlers and sleep while we travel? Perhaps you will dream of your journey’s end.”
“You are so kind, murmured the White Bird. Perhaps I will dream. And your step is so sure and steady I feel very safe with you.” As she had done on the pine branch, the White Bird tucked her head beneath her wing and rested.
The day wore on and still the White Bird slept. Then, suddenly, her wings fluttered and she rose straight up into the sunset sky! “I know where I am going!” She cried. “Goodbye, kind friend! Peace to you and joy unending!” And she was gone away into the West. The stag looked after her with a longing in his heart and wondered at her beauty.
White Bird flew steadily now and with great purpose. The miles sped by beneath her glistening wings. She saw a caravan traveling West through the desert. “You have a long way to go!” she cried, “I wish you health and a safe journey!”
Her strength was almost spent when she saw a small, bright blue sea. She chose a spot where no sea birds were flying and no fishing boats were tied. She landed close to the shore where a scattering of smooth rocks sloped down to the water. She breathed in the fresh smell of the sea and dipped her beak into a small pool among the rocks for a drink. “He will walk on you some day!” she said to the rocks, “and upon you as well, bright water!” She rested only a moment or two and then took flight once more.
Now the land beneath her was rocky and its hills were low with fruit trees and grape vines growing upon them. A bright golden dome came into view and she circled it in joyful anticipation.
“He’s coming!” she cried to the sparrows. “He’s almost here!” she cried to the pigeons that flew up to greet her. But she did not pause in her journey.
As she flew on, the sun dipped beneath the edge of the world and night overtook her. It was hard to see the hills below but she knew they were there. She could hear the bleating of sheep and the soft voices of shepherds calming them. Suddenly, right beside her a great light appeared! “Yes!” she cried, “I know you!”
The angel smiled at her as he moved toward the astonished shepherds. “Go, little one, He’s waiting for you!”
White Bird’s heart beat fast and her wings gained new strength as she winged her way to the little town. Over the rooftops she flew until a small stable appeared. It sat all alone behind a busy inn. But it was night now and all were sleeping. “Not all!” thought White Bird. “Not all!”
White Bird flew inside and lit on a rafter. It was not very high and in just the right spot. She looked down as the babe was wrapped in soft cloths and laid in a manger. Cows and donkeys breathed their sweet breath and warmed the stable. White Bird cooed her bubbling song as she had done in Heaven. “Rest, young Lord, rest in peace. Sleep while the world is sleeping. Soon they will know You are born and Christmas they’ll be keeping!
“I am home,” sang White Bird. “I am where I was meant to be. Thank you, Mighty God, for helping me to remember. And bless those who blessed me along the way!