Many of you will see the photographs I take when walking around the village. It is a fantastic feeling to be part of a community. And I love to show my friends images of the beautiful countryside which is part of my home.

When we have known a place for many years (some of us know a home since childhood) we will have spots when memories are made. We can remember fights with friends in the playground and sharing sweets with the same friends after school. And we will see the sweet shop now converted into a house and the playing fields now a housing estate.

Some of us will remember the walk to school in snow and rain. Bottles of milk in the morning and eat what you are given school meals. Every village or small town had the house where the witch lived and another sanctuary where the older people would give you a glass of orange squash.

These days will never return. The memories are only relevant to those who experience them and knew that two presents a year, a comic and one pocket money hand out each week was the way of childhood heaven. I’m not writing to say life was better forty years ago, because, there are many hidden horrors which turn the image from light to dark. But, for me, these times were pretty good.

In every small community, there will be characters. And shamefully, we will forget their names. But there are sometimes words they said or actions they made which are never forgotten. And I’ll recall a conversation between a young boy and a wise old man.

I sat on the wall next to the old man. Let’s call him Will. He didn’t say much, just asked about school and my mum and dad. As we watched our world pass by, we talked about farming and animals. There is no recollection why I commented, it must have been the birds flying to and from the woods.

‘When I die, I’m going to come back as a bird.’

The old chap, stopped for a minute and turned and looked at me dead square in the face. ‘Why would you want to that lad?’ he asked.

‘Because they are free to do as they like: they can fly high and look down on the countryside. Sit in trees and sing the day away. And when it’s time for bed, they fly to roost and do not have to worry about owning a home. Everything the bird has is free. Yes, when I die, I’m going to return as a bird.’

The old man answered:

‘When you see a bird flying, it is most often looking for food. A bird spends most of its life looking for food. Oversee them you’ll see they are always moving and looking and pecking. For a few weeks in they breed and once the building of the nest is complete and the eggs are hatched the two birds have to work twice as hard to support each other. Once the chicks are born, the parents have to work five or six times as hard to find food and the competition for the food is immense.

Once the birds are ready to fly, all manner of danger awaits, they can become prey to other birds and animals or man. The threat never stops; neither do searches for food. Some birds fly alone others in groups, but their lives are none stop hard work. And when the winter comes, many die of starvation or freeze to death.

Being a bird, John is tough and insecure work. Why would you want to return as a bird?’

I realised birds had lost their appeal! So I asked him what would he like to return as?’

‘I’d return as a man John. I haven’t much money, I’ve had to work all my life, and I’ve seen wars and death and sorrow. I have known a few good men and seen many cruel and greedy men. The brutal and greedy would never be my friends; I choose to live in the right way with a few people I can trust. I see my children grow up and my grandchildren laugh and play. And yes, John, I will see my love one’s die, both family and friends. But, I have known them and have enjoyed life together. Every member of humankind has opportunities. Some will live in poverty; others will not. The circumstance of birth is very much part of how we will live our lives. But unlike the bird or most other animals John, we can sit here and talk, we can read books and listen to the radio, and every one of us can imagine and create. These are some of the reasons, and I’d come back as a man John’

Of course, the words are only near to his answer, but you can be sure they are very close. I have never forgotten the conversation, and when I hear the saying ‘Free as a Bird’, I know the phrase holds many lessons. The biggest is:

If you desire to be free: You have to work hard and live in a way which is right and fair. None of us wins every time, and we do not always succeed. But it is important to accept as humans we have the best advantage of any animal living on this planet. And it is up to us to make the best of what we have and our lives.

John Richardson

John’s Website

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