That Quail Robert, by Margaret Stranger

“The enclosed package is for you to open after you leave Iowa, on the road to Indiana,” my friend Barbara wrote. By this point in the move my house was full of many little things that needed attention and a place to assure that they were not forgotten and were easily accessible. Insurance information, birth certificates, medical forms, mortgage information all were placed in huge accordion file and placed in the passenger seat of my car. Cards and well wishes, gift cards and sentimental items were all carefully placed in plastic bins. Although not essential for a move, these sentiments were important and not to be misplaced. The last loads of laundry, the final travel bags, with toothbrushes, and contact solution, were all gathered up and stuffed in the back of the car. At last the work was done. I took one last, long look around an empty house, and went to the kitchen counter to pick up the last three remaining items. My purse. My keys. And “That Quail, Robert.” I put the little book in my purse, turned, and thanked the big house for carrying my children, said a prayer, and walked out the door.

I didn’t open the book for two months.

I put the book in a special place in our new sun room. It’s the only book in there and it looks pretty next to wicker and sunlight. Plus I can pretend that Barbara is visiting when I see the book. Eventually I decided that the book was not given to me for aesthetic purposes and that I should read it. I found little corners of time to curl up with tea and a blanket and read this old, best seller of a time long ago and the intriguing story of a little bird who befriended humans.

Stranger writes as a psychologist. She observes people and she observed Robert as if she (spoiler alert!) were a person. Stranger uses lovely descriptions so one can almost pretend they are at Cape Cod, caring for a quail, watching it drink V8 juice and sleeping in a red velvet hat. The enduring part of the book is how the people cared for this little bird. Life was just normal, you see, until this unexpected visitor took up permanent residence in their life. She filled a void that they didn’t know was there. She put joy in their lives.

As I read, I wondered, “Of all books, why did Barbara give me this one? What was she trying to teach me?” I could see Barbara through the whole book. She is this wise, funny, insightful woman whom one feels privileged to know. She’s one of those people who makes you feel good about yourself, when you think it’s your job to go care about her – she’s really caring for you. So, if Barbara gives you a book, you know there’s something she is wanting to show you, and one better pay attention.

Here is the gift I received:

Life changes pretty fast. Change is what it is.

But the pace of life needn’t match the changes in life. The pace of life can be of our choosing.

We can give our kids a bath, and be done with it. Or we can pour in some bubbles and find a favorite book, and offer a drink with a crazy straw and we can sit and read to our child while they make bubble mountains. We can get breakfast put together and get to school and get started with the day, or we can smell the toast, lick the strawberry jam off the knife and notice that the birds start to sing before the sun rises. We can finish our day before it begins, or we can move at the pace of the day and be attentive to gift that it is. It’s a gift. Every day. It’s a gift.

Thank you, Barbara.

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