Marjorie Gibson sent me this story. I think of it as a modern parable.
One spring, when she was still a child on the farm, her father arrived at the back door cradling a little chick, about three days old. “He’s damaged,” said her father, “he drags one wing. I’ll have to destroy him but I feel badly, the little guy is so game!”
The family wouldn’t let him do it. They built a pen near the house. The damaged chick got hand feeding and cuddling by everyone.
But Dad still worried, saying “This won’t work. Chickens do not accept anything that is different.”
Charlie the chick grew quickly. He came running when he heard his name called.
Then the time came to see if Charlie could be re-united with his own kin. “We opened his pen and he ran towards the flock of chickens, dragging his wing and chirping,” Marjorie wrote.
“Results – then and for the next weeks – were mixed. Ignored, accepted, rejected, he received it all. Sometimes the rejection looked severe enough that we would call him and he would return to safety. Eventually he spent the days with the flock and the nights in his pen.
“One evening as darkness fell he did not come home. I went to the chicken coop and called – and Charlie answered. For the first time he was perched on the roosting rails, on the lowest one and at the edge of the flock, but he was there and not rejected.
“Then one afternoon there was a mad crowding together of excited, screeching chickens. With some difficulty Dad dispersed the maddened flock. The bloody and ripped body of our feathered friend lay in a pool of blood.
“Dad held me as I sobbed, and through his own tears said, ‘We tried, and Charlie tried, but sometimes creatures are so afraid of anything different that they go wild.”
Not unlike us humans, Marjorie concluded. “When I read of some young gay man being killed by a mob, I say to myself, ‘They are still doing it, Charlie…’”
Today, it’s gays and lesbians. Not long ago the hostility was directed at women, blacks, Asians, natives, and Hispanics – and many of them would say it still is.
No one who bucks the established pecking order is safe. Liberals and progressives get attacked as socialists, communists, or anarchists; the far right is written off as fascists or antediluvian throwbacks. Anyone with an Arabic-sounding name gets special attention at airports. And doctors who perform abortions are considered fair game for vigilantes with rifles.
As Marjorie’s Dad said, “Sometimes creatures are so afraid of anything different…”
But as Marjorie noted, there has been progress on some levels. “When I hear of schools including handicapped kids and mixing them successfully with non-handicapped kids, I say ‘Well Charlie, we can’t do much about chickens, but things are getting a little better with people.’”
I hope she’s right. When I look at some recent trends in legislation – primarily in the U.S. but also here in Canada — I worry that we may be slipping backwards towards the chicken yard.
Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author of 17 books and several thousand magazine and newspaper articles. He welcomes comments; firstname.lastname@example.org.