Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 April 2022
Introduction: the visit of a wounded bird
Four men stand in four different corners of a room, each holding a gun. They all set their sights on each other and none of them can turn down his gun. They are at a deadlock in a four-way standoff.
Then, suddenly, a wounded little bird flies down and falls right in the middle of the four men. Strangely, its faint breath travels across their guns and is perceived clearly on their hands.
At this moment, the four men all lower their guns, deeply appreciating the fact that they have escaped the worst situation at the last minute.
Can we call what was perceived by the four men beauty, truth, goodness, or love? What does it mean to be ‘perceived on their hands?’
We are not going to discuss whether it is a bodily sense, empathetic feeling, intellectual interpretation, or rational reasoning. Nor do we have to specify what is symbolised by the wounded little bird. After all, it does not matter what went through the minds of the four men; this could have been different for each one. What matters is the fact that the four men put down their guns, the fact that something other than bullets struck the four men, who then lost whatever reasons they had to continue holding their guns, and the fact that the unexpected presence of the small bird suddenly changed the critical situation faced by these individuals and in turn totally changed their behaviour.
Let us continue with the tale. The four men abandon their guns and take up hoes instead. They cooperate in cultivating the soil, resulting in a rich harvest in autumn. Now many lively birds visit the field and their songs can be heard. Wealth and peace are finally achieved, and they live happily ever after.
However, here is one question we have forgotten to ask: What then happened to the wounded little bird?
The wounded little bird was left behind and ascended quietly to heaven. No one noticed it. When autumn came the leaves covered it, and snow covered it in winter.